Serena Williams may be 39, but perhaps was exaggerating when she considered how good she is feeling as she heads into the Australian Open semi-finals.
Asked for when she last felt so fit and sprightly she replied: ‘1926, the summer of 1926 I think was the last time I felt that.’
The American is two matches away from equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, but must now face many people’s tournament favourite, Naomi Osaka.
Serena Williams (above) took just 82 minutes to beat Simona Halep to make the semi-finals
Williams overpowered the Romanian, Halep, 6-3, 6-3 with a statement victory on Tuesday
That she is ready is in no doubt, and in beating Wimbledon champion Simon Halep 6-3 6-3 she looked in her best shape since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September 2017.
Her defensive scrambling was staggeringly good at times, especially for someone who says she had an Achilles injury during the off-season.
Mobility is what has held her back since winning the Australian Open four years ago, but against one of the best movers on the tour her court coverage was remarkable.
The reward is a semi-final and first proper match against Osaka since their infamous 2018 US Open final when she lost control of her emotions. She maintained that both players now have ‘closure’ on that occasion .
As Williams observed afterwards: ‘ I’m good at rallying and I have to embrace the things I’m good at. I’m good at playing power, I’m good at hitting a hundred balls. That’s one thing that’s unique about me.’
Williams displayed incredible mobility against one of the best movers in the game
Williams also looks ready to equal Margaret Court’s (above) record of 24 Major titles
She will now face the tournament favourite Naomi Osaka (above) in the semi-finals
There are several unique players still alive at the Australian Open. For all the unusual circumstances around it, and supposed injuries , the latter stages feature some very familiar faces. Expectations of an unpredictable outcome have been confounded.
The exception to the rule is Russia’s world number 114 Aslan Karatsev, who now plays Novak Djokovic. He is the first qualifier to make the last four at a Grand Slam since Vladimir Voltchkov – briefly famous as The Vladiator – who did the same at Wimbledon 2000.
Karatsev is a familiar figure at the Challenger level and further rode his wave of confidence to get past Grigor Dimitrov, who had back issues as he lost in four sets.
He will probably meet the same fate as Voltchkov, who lost easily to Pete Sampras at the All England Club.
Russia’s world number 114 Aslan Karatsev has been a revelation and faces his biggest test yet
In reaching the semi-finals for the 39th time at a Major, by defeating Alex Zverev 6-7 6-2 6-4 7-6, Djokovic showed again what separates the tiny elite from those pursuing them.
He was, as he has been all fortnight, below his best for much of the time and the 23 year-old German had ample chances to drive home the advantages he created.
Yet either he flinched when he had the chance or, as in the fourth set, Djokovic found his best level of serving when he most needed it.
Given that his mysterious abdominal ailment allowed him to do that, there must be every chance he will clinch an eighth Melbourne title on Sunday.
His likely opponent remains Rafael Nadal, who this morning is due to tackle another of the talented but relatively guileless aspiring champions, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Novak Djokovic saw off Alexander Zverev to make yet another Australian Open semi-final
That Djokovic is now feeling good about himself was clear in his post-match desire to discuss player welfare issues, his favourite subject.
Looking ahead to the unpredictable situation in Europe this summer, he is pushing the idea of playing multiple tournaments at one venue.
‘Talking to a lot of players, majority just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine at most of the tournaments,’ he said.
The problem will be that, with so many hard-pressed events having been cancelled in 2020, it is hard to see them wanting, or being able, to forfeit again this summer.