By Erik Gudris / Saturday, August 17, 2013
If one needed a quick summary of the semifinal between Li Na and Serena Williams in Cincinnati, it would come down to this - double fault, double fault, double fault.
Though Western and Southern Open defending champion Li Na did come to the net more as she declared she would to ESPN's Pam Shriver before the start of the match, it was her second serve that let her down in the key moments of the often error-filled encounter.
Serena Williams posted a scratchy straight sets win over Li Na to reach her first every Cincinnati final and clinch the U.S. Open Series race.
(Photo Credit: AP)
For Williams, her week in Cincinnati had up to that point not been the best according to the always self-critical world No. 1. Williams had said she was "surprised" she was still in the event based on her earlier performances and admitted she still had not gotten used to the court and ball change, having played in Toronto last week.
With Williams hitting softer serves at the start of the first set, it gave Li an opportunity to get into the top seed's service games. But instead Williams quickly found herself up 4-1. Williams then tossed in 12 unforced errors to allow her opponent to even the set at 4-all. Li then broke Williams to serve for the set at 5-4.
But Li would hit her first untimely double fault of the night while up set point in the next game. That allowed Williams to break back for 5-all and then surge ahead to 6-5 with a ripped backhand winner.
Now serving to stay in the set, Li would hit yet another double fault, this time down set point, to give Williams the set 7-5.
Li, on the strength of six early winners, did improve her play at the start of the second set. She scored an early break of serve but then handed the advantage right back to Williams. Though Williams then opened up a 4-2 lead, her apparent issues with her abdominals again hampered her serve, allowing Li to catch up with her again.
Despite Williams' struggles, Li could never construct enough winning points to maintain her momentum. Li broke Williams' serve for 5-4, but then found herself broken at love herself in the next game for 5-all. With Williams being more imposing in her return games than her service games, it was up to Li to force a tiebreak down 5-6.
But errors down the stretch from Li soon gave Williams two match points. As she did in critical points earlier in the match, Li double faulted to hand Williams the 7-5, 7-5 win.
The ragged nature of the match was clearly told in the final stats. Both women combined to hit just 28 winners compared to a whopping 65 unforced errors.
Williams is now into her first ever Cincinnati finals, and her victory Saturday night also sealed her place as the winner of the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series race. Williams was very excited to receive the U.S. Open Series trophy when she was told the news on ESPN.
"I told Venus in L.A. I gotta go to practice because I really want to win this Emirates U.S. Open Series. I told her that two weeks ago. Yes!"
When asked about her abdominal struggles in the match where she was seen on the changeovers massaging her stomach, Williams said, "It started a couple of days ago and I was debating whether to tape it or not because tape really helps, but I didn't do it. And as I released it, it got a lot better. So I guess I've had so many injuries I know how to get better during a match."
Williams will next face in the finals Victoria Azarenka.
Follow Erik Gudris on Twitter @ATNtennis