What layoff? Serena Williams is in peak form for Aussie final


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Well, based on that semifinal match against Serena Williams, perhaps Agnieszka Radwanska received crucial match advice from Maria Sharapova.

"So what do I need to do to finally beat Serena after all these years?''

"Well, you need to take advantage of her occasional slow start by attacking from the very get-go. You also need to improve on your serve. And most importantly, you definitely need to book your flight home from Australia for Thursday night or Friday. Because you're not going to play in the final. And booking ahead saves money.''

"Ummmm, yeah. Thanks for the tips. And your tremendous vote of confidence."

"You're welcome. Want some Sugarpova for your flight?''

Heading into the Australian Open, there were questions about Serena's condition after a four-month layoff and a withdrawal from the Hopman Cup because of knee inflammation. Even Serena acknowledged that she had questions about how she would come back after her long layoff and whether it might be a rocky start.

"For sure I thought it was going to be a really rough start," Serena said. "I mean, I never thought I was going to go out and lose in the first round, but at the same time, I never thought before, 'I'm going to make it to the final, or anything.' I was just playing literally a point at a time.''

Serena might be playing them a point at a time, but the points seem as if they are coming at light speed. She hasn't lost a set here, won one match in just 44 minutes and bageled Radwanska in the first set Thursday in just 20 minutes. She had 42 winners compared to Radwanska's four, eight aces to zero and converted 22 of 25 net points in the match.

Radwanska, who has never beaten Williams and won only one set in their nine matches, had a slight chance to take the second set Thursday but was broken in the ninth game after being up 40-15. She ended up losing the set 6-4 with Serena serving three aces in the final game.

So now, after advancing to the final and not losing a single set here, the question is no longer Serena's condition, but whether anyone can possibly close the gap and beat her.

"If she's playing her best tennis like she was playing today in the first set, it's a big difference actually," Radwanska said. "I don't think anyone can really play on that level. She's really showing her great tennis on all the Grand Slams. Really showing she wants to win it. She's doing everything right. She goes on court and she just wants to kill it. Going like full power for everything. So I don't think anyone can really play on that kind of level at all.''

Certainly no one squaring up against her in Melbourne. Serena is 35-2 against the players she has faced here and 5-1 against her finals opponent Angelique Kerber, who beat Johanna Konta in straight sets.

At age 28, the sixth-ranked Kerber is playing in her first final at a Grand Slam. So on top of playing the world's best player, she likely will be dealing with some nerves. Especially given that Serena not only has six Australian Open titles, but she has never lost here after advancing to the semifinals. Williams also will be gunning to tie Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam titles (22) in the Open era.

Kerber does have one thing going for her. She has actually beaten Serena in the past four years, something none of Williams' other opponents can say. Not only that; she beat Serena in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, at Cincinnati in 2012.

The German lefty said that she is actually looking forward to playing the final against Serena, that she is looking forward to the challenge, that she will give her best and that she has nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose, that is, except the match.

"You can't underestimate Kerber. She's beaten me before, too, and pretty good," Serena said. "I know that she brings a lot to the game. Her being lefty definitely helps out as well. I haven't played any lefties yet. But we'll see.

"She's been very consistent this year already. She's proven that she wants to take her game to the next level.''

Perhaps Kerber will take her game to the next level. But can anyone take their game all the way to Serena's quadruple gold platinum diamond medallion level? Unlikely.

As Serena commented, "I've always said that when I'm playing at my best, it's difficult to beat me."