Former world number one Serena Williams' quest to regain the number one ranking from Angelique Kerber is just one match away. The six-time Australian Open champion will be competing in her eighth Australian Open final and an impressive 29th Grand Slam singles final.
Williams was too good for Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who the American looks to as an inspiration. Moreover, Williams will be competing against her sister, the 13th seed Venus Williams for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, for the second time after the second seed defeated Venus in the 2003 final in three sets.
A ruthless Williams in the opening set
Lucic-Baroni was competing in her first Grand Slam semifinal since Wimbledon in 1999. The Croat played a 22-time Grand Slam champion in Steffi Graf on that occasion too. The 34-year-old began the match holding serve, and Williams followed suit, leveling the match at 1-1. Both players set the tone evenly in the opening two games of the match, showing no nerves. The world number 79 was immediately under the pressure going 15-30 down in her next service game, however, a good serve drew the error from the second seed. Inevitably, Williams created her first break point chance with a smash winner in the net in a six-shot rally. A forehand unforced error out wide in a five-shot rally handed Williams the break leading 2-1.
The six-time champion sent down a couple of aces in her next service game consolidating the break to lead 3-1. The former top 32 player will move up to a career-high ranking of 29 after the Australian Open concludes, she leads 30-0 but a double fault and unforced error leveled the fifth game at 30-30. Lucic-Baroni would create a game point with a good serve drawing the error from the American. However, a couple of unforced errors and a double fault, handed Williams a commanding double break to lead 4-1.
Williams remained untroubled on serve with more unforced errors spewing from Lucic-Baroni's racquet, and Williams won her fifth consecutive game to lead 5-1. The world number 79 was serving to stay in the opening set building a 30-15 lead. An ace down the T, quickly followed by a good serve, drawing the error from Williams stopped the rot of games against her and forced the former world number one to serve for the opening set at 5-2.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion's step to a 29th Grand Slam final grew closer as she served out the opening set to love in just 24 minutes leading 6-2.
Williams sets up an all-Williams final
The 34-year-old held on to serve in the opening game of the second set which was important if she was going to trouble Williams and get back into this match. Furthermore, Williams had other ideas by starting the second game of the second set with an ace down the T, two good serves down the middle, and a backhand unforced error from Lucic-Baroni leveled the second set at 1-1.
The unseeded Croat was playing some good tennis in her second service getting to a 40-15 lead. However, a double fault followed and the second-seeded amped up the pressure with a six-shot rally forcing the error from Lucic-Baroni who was on the backfoot. The signs were clear and Williams broke at the first time of asking with a forehand winner down the line on the Croat's second serve leading 2-1.
More unforced errors occurred from both players in the follow game but a great serve out wide from Williams allowed the six-time champion to extend her lead to 3-1. Unfortunately, both players didn't get a break after playing on Wednesday but Williams coped with it better. Lucic-Baroni's thigh was heavily strapped and she went 0-40 down in the fifth game. A forehand error from Williams gave the world number 79 a mini-reprieve. However, the former world number one didn't hesitate to take the second break point with a double fault from Lucic-Baroni to lead 4-1, and firmly with the finishing line in sight.
The second seed's serve and backhand combo gave the American a 15-0 lead, however, a forehand unforced error out wide followed. Nevertheless, a backhand winner down the line nudged Williams ahead in the game but a double fault followed. The former world number one would secure the game in a 13-shot rally, showcasing tremendous athleticism with a forehand winner down the line, leading 5-1.
Lucic-Baroni was struggling to serve in the stay in the match with the six-time champion finding a backhand winner down the line, punishing the Croat's weak second serve. Moreover, Lucic-Baroni would win the next two points. Once again, Williams was threatening on the Croat's serve. She won the next two points with a smash winner, and she would win the match with a forehand unforced error in the net in a seven-shot rally. 6-2, 6-1 in just 50 minutes advancing to her eighth Australian Open final in 15 years.
Williams was dominant on serve in this match. The second seed got in 68 percent of her first serves in, and she won a staggering 92 percent of the points on her first serve too. The former world number one had good success at the net by winning 100 percent of the points by coming to the net, the American only produced 14 winners and committed 10 unforced errors. In contrast, Lucic-Baroni's downfall was producing 10 winners and 23 unforced errors. Nevertheless, Lucic-Baroni has played a sublime tournament by ousting two of the top five seeds in Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova.
A family affair
The 35-year-old American will take on her sister Venus Williams in the Australian Open final on Saturday. The duo haven't competed in a Grand Slam singles final since Wimbledon in 2009, which happened to be Venus' last Grand Slam final up until this point. The 22-time Grand Slam champion has the edge over her elder sister in Grand Slam finals, winning 6-2. There will be immense pressure on Williams in this contest as it will be an emotional affair, moreover, she will chasing an Open Era record, 23rd Grand Slam singles title, and to do it against her sister Venus, it would be a special achievement.