Even with the roof closed at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams reigned.
After a slow start in her semifinal match Thursday night, Williams transformed herself into a locomotive and won 12 of the final 13 games to blow past Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 6-3, 6-0.
Rain led to the roof’s closure and a comfortable evening during what has been an often unbearably humid U.S. Open. Comfortable for everyone but Sevastova, who saw an early two-game lead deteriorate once Williams found her groove.
“This is just the beginning of my return” said Williams, who returned in March after missing last year’s Open because of childbirth. “I'm still on the way up. You don't reach your best a couple months in.”
After Williams smacked a forehand winner on match point, a deliriously partisan crowd rose to salute a tennis royal who will pursue two more pieces of history in Saturday’s final, where she’ll face Naomi Osaka.
Osaka defeated Madison Keys 6-2 and 6-4 later Thursday night.
A victory in the title match would be Williams’ 24th in Grand Slam events, tying Margaret Court’s all-time record.
It would also be Williams’ seventh Open crown—19 years after her first—making her the most decorated champion ever at America’s Grand Slam.
“I'm just going to keep trying,” said Williams, who lost to Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final. “If it doesn't happen, I'll keep trying for the next one.”
Sevastova, the No. 19 seed from Latvia, came into the match with momentum, having beaten defending champion Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals. Sevastova plays a mature game with an impressive array of slices and spins that had confounded opponents at the Open.
Williams made her look ordinary.
But not from the outset.
The 17th-seeded Williams struggled to control her forehand and lost the first two games. The sluggish start was reminiscent of her quarterfinal match against No. 8 Karolina Pliskova when Williams dropped four of the first six games. She then found a higher gear to win eight consecutive games and leave Pliskova in the dust.
This time, Williams strung together five straight games to take a 5-2 lead for command of the set and, eventually, the match.
Williams served up a bagel in a second set that lasted just 27 minutes. Throughout the match, Williams relied on the most underrated aspect of her tennis supremacy—intelligence—to overwhelm a difficult opponent.
Sevastova favors the slice, which keeps the ball low and forces an opponent to hit up to clear the net. Had Williams tried to play from the baseline consistently, Sevastova could have used the strategic advantage to pull off an upset.
Instead, Williams came forward early and often. She turned the tables on Sevastova, taking away her opponent’s time and space, and won 24 of 28 points at the net.
I know how to play at the net,” Williams said. “I have great volleys, or else I wouldn't have won  Grand Slam doubles titles. I know how to do it. It's just the fact of turning it on and actually doing it.”
“She wanted to finish the points at the net and be aggressive,” said Sevastova, the first Latvian to reach the Open semifinals.”
Coming into the match, Sevastova had broken serve 28 times, more than any other woman at this year’s Open. But Williams ruled the court on this night, earning five service breaks to one for the Latvian.
The victory allowed Williams to rise above the round in which she had stumbled in her previous two Opens.
In 2015, while in pursuit of the sport’s first Grand Slam since 1988, she fell in the semifinals to Roberta Vinci in, arguably, the biggest upset in tennis history.
A year later, she lost to Pliskova in the semifinals.
There would be no semifinal collapse this year.
With rain forecast for Saturday, the roof at Ashe likely will be closed again and a capacity crowd will gather in full voice to support Williams in a championship match that may look more like a coronation.