Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Serena sets sights on 19th major title

Published:Friday | January 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):It wasn't until Serena Williams forced herself to relax and not focus too intently on a milestone Grand Slam title that she rediscovered the art of winning the biggest events in tennis.

Now she's on the verge of a 19th major championship after beating 19-year-old Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 yesterday, setting up an Australian Open final against long-time rival, Maria Sharapova.

Williams has won all five Australian Open finals she has contested and won her last 15 matches against No. 2-ranked Sharapova, a five-time major winner who will be playing her fourth final at Melbourne Park.

While the 33-year-old Williams is peerless among active players, there was a period last year when she wanted so desperately to win her 18th major that it proved too distracting. After winning the US Open in 2013, she lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second round at the French and the third round at Wimbledon.

"I was so hyped on getting to 18 and I lost every Grand Slam early. I didn't make it to any quarter-finals," Williams said.

"Then after Wimbledon, I decided to just - not necessarily not care - but just relax. It all kind of came back for me after that ... and I think it's been working."

That approach helped her win the US Open, and if it works again on Saturday against 2008 champion Sharapova, it will help Williams move above Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the list of major winners. She would be behind only Steffi Graf, with 22 titles, among champions in the Open era.

TOUGH WORKOUT

Williams, who has struggled with a cold for a week, said she'd benefit from a tough workout in the all-American semi-final against Keys, who pounded her with heavy groundstrokes and a big serve for the first set.

Sharapova, who beat No. 10-seeded Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-2 in an all-Russian semi-final, has won only two of her 18 career meetings with Williams - both in 2004.

In men's play, Andy Murray reached the Australian Open final for the fourth time, and is desperate to end a title drought Down Under.

The sixth-seeded Murray beat No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 in a semifinal laced with heavy hitting and flashes of anger.