Still rusty, Serena finds ways to win

Updated: April 2, 2004, 2:52 PM ET
By Cynthia Faulkner | ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Just getting as far as the final is a victory for Serena Williams.

After sitting out for eight months following knee surgery, Serena defeated Eleni Daniilidou 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open on Thursday.

She did say, though, that her game isn't where it used to be -- yet. The main thing she didn't want to do here was lose her first match.

"I can't say that I didn't expect to reach the final," she said. "I do know what I didn't want to do is lose in the first round of my first tournament back. I wanted to have still strong presence."

But win or lose on Saturday afternoon, she's happy to have done this well.

"It's a major confidence boost regardless to what happens," she said.

Still, getting to where she is hasn't been easy. After a stronger performance in the quarterfinals, she struggled some with shot selection and with her serve against Daniilidou. She also made 25 unforced errors. "Today, I digressed a little bit," Serena said. "I went backwards a little bit. I didn't play so well."

"It's normal that she's doing some easy mistakes," Daniilidou said. "I think is really (tough to) come back in the same rhythm that she was."

Williams said that she usually takes a long break in the summer between Wimbledon and the tournament in Los Angeles. At those times, her mental game is the tough part, and she expected something similar in this comeback.

"I thought it would be more mental, as well, but I'm pretty much able to close them out," she said. "I think I'm not selecting my shots as well as I should be."

She explained that when she practiced she did a lot of drills, not really playing out points or any sets.

"So, I think that next time, if I'm going to take some time off, I'm going to try and do that," she said.

Even so, her serve was enough to make Daniilidou offer her racquet to a ball boy (who wisely declined) after facing back-to-back aces in the second set.

What was Serena's reaction? "Hit another ace," she said.

"She serves unbelievable," Daniilidou said. "I mean, today, I think it was also the key that she won the match."

Serena's first serve percentage was 52 percent, winning the point 68 percent of the time. That's low in comparison to before the injury. Serena said it's probably to be expected because she didn't really work as much on her serve as she'd wanted to. She was broken when serving for both sets, but she blamed it on relaxing too much.

"You can never get comfortable," Serena said. "I think I let myself down. I'm glad it happened because now I know not to do it anymore."

Next up is Elena Dementieva, who defeated Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-2 after surviving a mediocre match with Venus Williams in the quarterfinals.

It didn't sound like Serena planned to do much scouting of their evening match.

"I was nervous," Serena said. "I thought I was going to have play tonight, but I didn't. I was going to watch 'The Apprentice.' That's my show. I'm a reality freak."

Saying she's pulling for Bill, she explained that it's just not the same if it's taped.

When asked what her own reality show would be like, she said she's always moving.

"It would be a really exciting life," Serena said, smiling. "You guys can't believe the life I live. I'm so busy, I never stop."

So her opponents this week have noticed.

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.

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