Resurgent Serena routs Peer, reaches Sony Ericsson final
Serena Williams continued her remarkable rise, beating Shahar Peer and advancing to Saturday's Sony Ericsson Open final against Justine Henin.
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Shahar Peer trained as a corporal in the Israeli army, preparing for combat of the most brutal kind, so the sight of Serena Williams across the net -- imposing as the former No. 1 might be -- didn't seem to rattle this 19-year-old.
At least not for a while.
Peer wasn't afraid of Williams when she first played her as a qualifier two years ago in Key Biscayne; she wasn't afraid when she came two points short of beating her in the Australian Open quarterfinals two months ago; and she wasn't afraid for about an hour of the Sony Ericsson Open semifinal Thursday night.
An upset-minded crowd waved Israeli flags and roared with each Peer point in a tense first set, but Williams stepped it up and proved too good. She survived the first-set tiebreaker and took over the match from there, defeating Peer 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
With Heat star Dwyane Wade watching from front-row seats, Williams won the second set in 29 minutes and improved her record this year to 14-1, which is remarkable considering she played only four tournaments last year and entered this year ranked No. 95. She faces top-ranked Justine Henin in the final Saturday.
Standing between Williams and her fourth title here is Henin, who is finally having fun in Key Biscayne. Henin has five Grand Slam trophies in her possession, but she had never gotten past the quarterfinals in six appearances in this tournament.
March is typically a trying month emotionally for the Belgian because it is the anniversary of her mother's death. Henin's mother died of cancer when she was 12. She also has struggled in Key Biscayne because of the windy conditions.
But this year, her fortune changed. She improved her 2007 record to 15-1 with an easy 6-2, 6-3 victory against Anna Chakvetadze of Russia.
Williams said she expects a very tough final, and looks forward to the challenge. Her left knee was sore during Thursday's match, but Williams said it is from overuse after four straight days of matches, and she will be ready to go Saturday.
''This will be a real test of my game,'' Williams said. ``Justine's been playing some of the best tennis on tour. I will definitely have to play better than I did [Thursday]. She can hit hard even though she's little.''
Henin returned the compliments.
''Serena looks like she's healthy now, and very focused on her tennis,'' Henin said.
``I wasn't really surprised the way she came back in Australia [winning the title 6-1, 6-2 over Maria Sharapova]. When she's healthy and really focused, she's a great champion. It's great the level she's back. I think it's going to be close to her best level.''
Williams is ranked No. 18 this week. If she wins Saturday, she moves up to No. 11. The last time she was ranked in the top 10 was September 2005.
''I have absolutely nothing to lose,'' Williams said on the court after her match Thursday night. ``I can only go up from here.''
2 Grand Slam (Mixed Doubles) Titles
(1) Wimbledon ('98), (1) US Open ('98) (both w/ Max Mirnyi)