Triumphant Serena, fearless off court and on

   NEW YORK—Serena Williams is a lady without fear, unafraid off the court to take an unpopular stand—supporting Colin Kaepernick in his controversial commercial—unafraid on the court to change the style of tennis that has been so effective through the years.

  Did you read what Serena said about Kaepernick, whose defiance is celebrated by Nike, admittedly also one of her sponsors?

  “He’s done a lot for the African-American community, and it’s cost him a lot,” she said. “I think everyone has a choice to do what they choose to do.”

  What Serena chose to do Thursday night was less momentous socially but quite significant athletically.

   A baseline player—“I usually only come to the net to shake hands,” Williams quipped—she moved up shot after shot, and in their U.S. Open semifinal thwarted the slice and drop-shot game of Anastasija Sevastova to win, 6-3, 6-0.

  After losing serve in the first game and then dropping the second, to go down, 2-0, Williams won 12 of the other 13 games in a tidy 1 hour 6 minutes under the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, closed before play began because of forecast of rain.

  The rain never materialized. Neither, after those first two games, did the supposed threat from the 28-year-old Sevastova, a Latvian who was in her first Grand Slam semi.

  A year ago the 36-year-old Williams was recovering from complications in the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Now she’s in the U.S. Open final for a ninth time with the opportunity for a seventh victory—and a record tying 24th Slam win.

  “It’s been an incredible year,” said Williams, who will be 37 in a couple weeks. “A year ago I was fighting for my life in the hospital. No matter what happens in any match I feel like I’ve already won. To come this far . . .I’m just beginning guys.”

  It’s confidence tempered by possibility that perhaps makes Williams willing to take chances.

   Sure she has the money and backing of Nike, but stepping forward for Kaepernick, the onetime 49er quarterback who has been ostracized for kneeling down during the national anthem, is unnecessary and among many tennis buffs, an elite gathering, unpopular.

   “Whether people protest it, which is a peaceful protest actually, or not, that is the choice of being American,” said Serena. “It doesn’t make them less American. And I think that’s also something that’s really interesting, is the fact that we all make up this world, because we have different views and different views on different things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be loving toward each other.”

   The sellout crowd of 23,000-plus certainly was in love with Serena. She’s been competing in the Open for almost 20 years. In tennis familiarity brings respect. She’s old guard but not too old to go unappreciated—even having been out of the game for 14 months, until March.

  She did get to the final at Wimbledon in July, if against a draw from which all the top 10 seeds were gone the first week. Angelique Kerber beat Serena in that final. Then Williams was smacked around in a couple of tournaments. Now she’s doing the smacking.

  “I’ve been practicing coming to the net,” said Williams. “I Lost matches against players like that.”
  She means players who have slicing backhands or cutsy little shots that land softly in the forecourt and are unreachable.

  “I’ve come to the net before,” she said, “I know how. I’ve volleyed when I play doubles. I just need to do it more.”

  Sevastova, who beat last year’s Open winner, Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals, said of Serena’s movement, “I think she should come to the net for sure. I don’t know if I was surprised. But again she was serving well.”

  Which she does most of the time.

  At the end Williams seemed to be holding back tears.

  “Yeah,” she agreed, “I was a little emotional because last year at this time I was fighting for my life.”

    The fearless lady also won that one.

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