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LONDON – It's almost as if Serena Williams never left.
Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance. Especially at Wimbledon, where she's one victory from an eighth championship.
A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court's record.
"It's crazy. I don't even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn't expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back," Williams said. "I just feel like when I don't have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that's kind of what I'm doing."
After hitting five aces with a serve that reached 119 mph, delivering 16 winners to only seven unforced errors, and covering the court so well with speed and effort against Goerges, Williams will face another German, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber, on Saturday.
"Whatever happens, honestly it's an incredible effort from me," the 36-year-old Williams said, "and good motivation to keep going for the rest of my career."
The left-handed Kerber, a former No. 1 and two-time major champion, used a seven-game run to beat 12th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3. Kerber did not dictate much, content to let 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko determine the outcome of nearly every point.
By the end, Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.
Williams vs. Kerber will be a rematch of the 2016 final at Wimbledon. Williams won that for a second consecutive title at the All England Club, then sat out the grass-court tournament last year while pregnant, part of a 16-month gap between majors.
"Seeing her back, it's great," said Kerber, who has lost six of eight previous matches against Williams. "I know that she is always pushing you to the limits to play your best tennis. This is the only chance to beat her."
After giving birth to daughter Olympia last September, Williams dealt with issues including blood clots, and she's been wearing compression leggings this fortnight as a precaution. Her first Grand Slam tournament back was the French Open, where she won three matches before withdrawing last month because of an injured chest muscle.
All of the time away pushed someone who's spent more than 300 weeks ranked No. 1 down the rankings — she began Wimbledon at 181st, but was seeded 25th on account of her past success — and no one could quite be sure how the American would fare over these two weeks.
Not even Williams knew.
"This is not inevitable for me. I had a really tough delivery, and I had to have multiple surgeries and almost didn't make it, to be honest," Williams said. "I remember I couldn't even walk to my mail box, so it's definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final. So I'm taking everything as it is and just enjoying every moment."
The victory over Goerges extended Williams' winning streak at Wimbledon to 20 matches, dating to the start of the 2015 edition. She's also won her past 15 Grand Slam matches, going to the start of the 2017 Australian Open, which she won while pregnant.
That title pushed her past Steffi Graf's record of 22 majors in the half-century professional era; Court won some of her Slams during the amateur era.
Williams' match against Goerges featured two of the best servers around, and began quite evenly, until 2-all, 30-all. Goerges, the first seeded player Williams faced these two weeks, showed she was capable of trading power from the baseline with Williams.
There were moments when watching Goerges made it easy to wonder how it could be possible she never had been past a major's fourth round until now. Or, more to the point on this afternoon, how such a stinging serve and big groundstrokes didn't help her avoid first-round exits each of the past five years at Wimbledon.
But she couldn't keep up with Williams, who grabbed 18 of 22 points and five consecutive games to close the first set and begin the next. Williams broke for a 4-2 lead in the second when Goerges tried a rare drop shot that caught the top of the net tape and fell on her side. There was one brief blip to come: Williams got broken for the only time while serving for the match at 5-3.
Immediately, though, Williams broke back at love to end it, smiling widely and placing her left fist on her chest when Goerges' last shot landed long.
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