Hours before her Wimbledon semifinal, Serena Williams did some thinking and arrived at a couple of conclusions.
For one thing, she shouldn't focus too much on trying to raise her grand slam title total to 24, a number achieved by just one other player in tennis history. For another, she needs to stay calm on court.
With that in mind, Williams went out yesterday and made it look easy, overwhelming Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes to once again put herself on the verge of an eighth championship at the All England Club and major No 24 overall.
"It's really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It's really just about going out there and giving my best effort, no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career," said Williams, who at 37 is the oldest woman to reach a grand slam final in the professional era. "I just kind of let it go [yesterday]."
Tonight at 1am, she will take on No7-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, a 6-1, 6-3 winner over No 8 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine under a cloudy sky at Centre Court. It's the 11th final at the All England Club for Williams, the first for Halep, whose only major trophy came at the French Open last year.
They've played each other 10 times, with Williams winning nine, including a three-setter at the Australian Open in January.
"I respect a lot what she has done and what she's doing," said Halep, who, like Williams, used to be ranked No 1. "But now I feel stronger, mentally, facing her. We will see what is going to happen. It's just a big challenge for me."
For anyone, really, when Williams is at her best. And after an up-and-down first half of 2019, due in part to injury and illness, she appears to have lifted her level considerably.
Williams was limited to 12 matches in 2019 until last week. After a third-round loss at Roland Garros on June 1, she stayed in France for medical treatment and finally felt pain-free while preparing for Wimbledon.
"Well, if she will play like this in the final," said Strycova, 33, the oldest first-time grand slam semifinalist in the modern era, "it's going to be very hard for Simona."
After a three-set struggle against Alison Riske in the quarter-finals, Williams was dominant against Strycova, who was limited by a leg muscle problem that cropped up in the first game. Strycova would repeatedly flex or shake her legs between points or try to stretch in her sideline chair by pulling her right foot on to her left knee and rocking her leg. Not an ideal situation. Especially when facing Williams if she's this dialled-in.
Williams played cleanly, accumulating nearly twice as many winners as unforced errors, 28-10. She was at her usual court-covering best, which helped limit Strycova to 10 winners.
"I just need to relax and do what I can do," Williams said, referring again to her deep thoughts from yesterday.
"I was calm," she said, then rolled her eyes and added: "It's a day-to-day basis with me. We all know that. I'm far from perfect."
Williams has been this close to adding to her title total before: In 2018, her first season back on tour after the birth of daughter Olympia, Williams reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals but lost both.
That has left her 23 grand slams, one fewer than Margaret Court accumulated while playing part of her career against amateur competition.