That there were more seagulls perched along the roof than humans inside Rod Laver Arena (RLA) mattered not one jot.
We never thought we’d see it perhaps but just shy of her 40th birthday, Williams is back to her 20-something best.
Serena Williams proved age is nothing but a number as she dazzled at the Australian Open
Williams, who turns 40 in September, was excellent as she beat Simona Halep in straight sets
The American won 6-3, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals after a stunning display on Tuesday night
A rocket of a cross-court return on point one from the cat-suited American told us of her mindset. But it is not all mental anymore, far from it. On Tuesday her coach Patrick Mouratoglou glistened as he explained how her footwork and speed and movement were on another level now to recent times.
They were indeed, this is Williams back in virtuoso mood. Blow after blow was traded with the tiny Romanian, cross court, down the line, the occasional drop shot, aces (four to the American, none to Halep) and more.
Each time they hit a 20-shot rally (at one point it seemed like every other shot went this way) the squeaky floored stadium grew loud as Halep’s exhales hit the high notes, Williams replying with equally forceful but lower grunts. It was riveting.
All around RLA, a logo heavy tarpaulin bleached out nearly all the seats, a small block for the players’ teams and media only and whoever else managed to steal in. It screamed sterile but the these two heavyweights made it anything but.
The first set done in 37 minutes, Halep led 3-1 and a marathon looked likely. But Williams’ footwork kicked in as she moved like her 25-year-old self and her depth and weight of shot never stopped coming. Halep kept her composure – she played very well – but inside will have been crumbling. There was nothing she could do. She left the court within seconds as is the losers lot and this will hurt.
Halep played well too in this enthralling contest but ultimately had no answer to Williams
The Rod Laver Arena was virtually empty but a lack of crowd didn’t diminish the level of tennis
Three hours before, Williams was hitting out on court six in 30 degree sunshine. Her practice session began mildly but increased in intensity gradually to the point of match play. No ball is left unturned, her regular hitting partner, Jarmere Jenkins, sending serve after serve to her backhand never less than an inch apart. Had Halep popped down to check her out she may well have packed her bags there and then. This was a victory borne of professionalism and planning.
Intriguingly gone is the sullen and about-to-implode nature that can accompany Williams. She has been gracious and forthcoming all tournament and this reflects in her play. She beamed big time at the end but it was not begrudging or conditional as it can be with her. She looked simply happy.
Her box was telling too. Seven people all in sync, supportive but not rowdy. Oddly big sis Venus sat facing Serena throughout, her head never once swaying side to side as tennis watchers are prone to do when the ball crosses back and forth. On match point she had her phone out and was videoing the proceedings. Surely she has other people to do this?
Williams was dominant on Tuesday with her footwork and hitting power a thing to behold
‘I was not that far (off),’ said Halep afterwards. ‘She was stronger in the important moments.’
Indeed. The last time they met was the Wimbledon final 2019 when Halep played the match of her life. This was not as grand an occasion by far but remarkably will be just as telling.
Serena Williams is back and the chase for her 24th major title is back on. She is not obsessed about the number said Mouratoglou but she is still playing because she knows the can win more.
And now, so do we. It is some comeback.
Williams’ hunt for a 24th major title will continue on Thursday when she face Naomi Osaka next