In 2019, 14 different women made one major-tournament semifinal. Only two made more than one, and they met on Thursday night in the U.S. Open semifinals. Serena Williams thrashed Elina Svitolina, making her the only woman on the WTA Tour to reach more than one major final this year.
Serena Williams has gone through a lot of interruptions and disruptions related to her health, much like another tennis icon of a similar age. Roger Federer just turned 38 years old.
Serena will turn 38 later this month. Serena has played fewer tournaments, but both players have entered tournaments healthy, only to be ambushed within tournaments by health problems which abruptly flared up.
Serena was affected by health problems at Indian Wells and Toronto — interestingly enough, the two significant hardcourt tournaments Bianca Andreescu has won this year.
She had played tremendous tennis in each of those tournaments, beating Victoria Azarenka in Indian Wells, in one of the matches of the season, and then Naomi Osaka in the Toronto quarterfinals.
Days later, she could not finish matches in either event — not in Indian Wells versus Garbine Muguruza, not in Toronto versus Andreescu. There is an unfinished story attached to the Serena-Andreescu U.S. Open women’s final, a big part of why it is such an attractive matchup.
That, however, lies in the future. For now, can we focus on the present moment, and on the point that despite her health-related difficulties in 2019, Serena has stayed the course and not become impatient?
Can we focus on the fact that Serena is still doing things her tour competitors are not managing to achieve?
Serena hasn’t yet won that coveted 24th major title, but even without that trophy, she still stands alone in her sport today.
Only Serena has reached consecutive finals at the same major tournament in 2018 and 2019… and she has done so twice, not merely once, at Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open. The last person before Serena to make consecutive finals at the same major: Simona Halep at Roland Garros in 2017 and 2018.
Only Serena has four appearances in major-tournament finals over the past two years. Simona Halep has three, Naomi Osaka two.
Only Serena has reached six U.S. Open finals this decade. No one else comes remotely close.
In the Open Era of professional tennis, only Serena has reached the same major-tournament final 20 years after her first appearance. Venus Williams has reached a major final 20 years after her first, but not at the same tournament. Venus made the 1997 U.S. Open final and then the 2017 Australian Open and Wimbledon finals. Serena has reached not only the 2019 Wimbledon final after making the 1999 U.S. Open final. She has returned to the U.S. Open final this year.
She stands alone in returning to championship Saturday in New York, 20 years after her first time in Arthur Ashe Stadium with a major trophy hanging in the balance.
We will all find out what Serena has to offer against Bianca Andreescu, in the Toronto final we never got to see in its totality. That part of the story can wait. For now, appreciate how Serena continues to set herself apart in the larger story of women’s tennis.