NEW YORK — At the end, and only at the very end, did Serena Williams face anything resembling a challenge in her U.S. Open semifinal.
Six times, Williams was a single point from winning. Six times, she failed to come through.
All that did, of course, was delay the inevitable. On match point No. 7, Williams delivered a 107 mph service winner, then let out two shouts, a mixture of relief and rejoicing after a 6-0, 6-3 victory over fifth-seeded Li Na of China that put the defending champion back in the final at Flushing Meadows.
“I got a little nervous,” said the No. 1-ranked Williams, who will face No. 2 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s final, “but I was able to close it out, finally.”
She usually does.
Pursuing a fifth U.S. Open championship, and 17th Grand Slam title overall, Williams has been so dominant, so untouchable, during these two weeks that the only question each time out was how long it would take her to win, not whether she would.
Half of Williams’ losses this season were to Azarenka, including one at a hard-court tuneup in Cincinnati last month.
“We know each other pretty well. I know her strengths; she knows my strengths,” Azarenka said. “That’s what it’s all about, about those turning points, who wants it more, who’s willing to go for it more.”