Serena Williams (Player Bio) will aim to win her 73rd match and 10th title of the season when she takes on Jelena Jankovic (Player Bio) in the China Open final on Sunday. The Williams vs Jankovic Head to Head stands at 6-4.
The 32-year-old continues to write new chapters in the incredible saga that is her tennis career. Two and a half years ago, some worried that she might never play again, let alone dominate the sport that made her a household name. Today, she is without a doubt the queen bee of the WTA Tour, thousands of points ahead of her nearest rival in the rankings and playing at an unprecedented level.
After sweeping past Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals in Beijing, she produced another clinical display to dismantle third seed Agnieszka Radwanska. The Pole can bamboozle most players with her cerebral game, but Serena simply hit through her on Saturday, dictating on serve and from the back of the court. The American saved the only break point she faced – in the final game – and was never seriously troubled during the match, which ended 6-2, 6-2 after one hour and 12 minutes.
In contrast, her fellow finalist earned her berth in the showpiece match the hard way. Facing the in-form Petra Kvitova, Jelena Jankovic lost a marathon first set 9-7 in the tie-break. A less dogged player would have faded after that disappointment, but the Serb dug in and gradually wore down a tired Kvitova, who was playing her ninth match in the last two weeks. Jankovic broke twice in the second set to take it 6-1, and three more times in the third to win it by the same scoreline. By keeping her unforced error count low and making Kvitova hit an extra ball in every rally, the former world number one confirmed that it takes a very good performance to put her away.
There is no question that Serena will come out strongly on Sunday, so does Jankovic have any chance of stopping her from picking up yet more silverware? The 28-year-old actually has a better record against Serena than the vast majority of active players: in their ten previous encounters, she has beaten her four times (once when Serena retired), and three of the six losses went to a deciding set. Jankovic is one of the few women who raises her game when playing Serena. Famously ebullient and stubborn, she isn’t intimidated by Williams’ formidable court presence.
There is another factor in Jankovic’s favour. During the second set of her semi-final, Serena required treatment on her back, and was wincing after many shots. With a day’s rest, there’s every chance she’ll be fully fit for the final. Yet if she is still feeling the strain Jankovic will make her suffer all the more. Just as she did against Kvitova, she’ll extend the rallies, opting for a percentage topspin forehand rather than going for a flatly hit winner. At her best, Serena can blast through this kind of defence, but if she’s under the weather it could be a long road to a second China Open title.
We’re used to seeing Serena accomplish superhuman feats on the tennis court, and even with a delicate back she’ll be the favourite on Sunday. However, with a confident Jankovic desperate for her biggest title in years, as well as a place in the WTA Championships in Istanbul, it would be surprising if this turned into a straight sets wipeout. Expect a battle-scarred Serena to come through an eventful, physically gruelling three-setter.