Williams wins in front of hometown crowd

Updated: November 14, 2004, 9:08 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Serena Williams is in love -- with her new attacking game and herself.

Williams moved a step closer to salvaging her season with a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 semifinal victory over Amelie Mauresmo in the WTA Championships on Sunday.

"She just went for it," Mauresmo said. "I would give all the credit to her. I was playing some good tennis and she really raised her level a lot."

Williams alternately blasted powerful groundstrokes, served in the 120-mph range and rushed the net, where she won 38 of 54 points.

"I'm doing in the match what do I in practice, so for me that's really important," she said. "That's what I'm happy most about. Now I just got to make sure I make them all."

Williams, ranked eighth and without a Grand Slam title this season for the first time since 2001, advanced to Monday night's final against Maria Sharapova, the 17-year-old Russian who stunned her in the Wimbledon final.

Dressed in a pink-and-white ruffled skirt and pink shirt, Williams pirouetted and blew kisses to 9,022 fans at Staples Center who were clearly on her side.

She wore a white T-shirt with the slogan `I Heart Me' after the match.

"I love me. I love everything about me. I love my legs, I love my arms, I love my lips, I love my eyes," she said, laughing. "I think it's important for everyone to love themselves."

Sharapova defeated countrywoman Anastasia Myskina 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 for the first time after losing all three of their other meetings this year.

"If Serena would play like she did today, I don't think she (Sharapova) would have any chances," Myskina said.

Sharapova replied, "I'm just so excited to be in the final, I could care less about my chances."

Sharapova was assessed a code violation for being coached in the fifth game of the third set by her father Yuri. "He always coaches her," Myskina said, adding that most players' coaches do the same thing during matches. "Maria's father did something really loud. That is why the chair umpire saw it."

Sharapova said, "I didn't hear what he said."

Mauresmo's loss guaranteed Lindsay Davenport will retain the top spot when the year-end WTA rankings are released Tuesday.

"I'm really happy for Lindsay," said Williams, who was sidelined for eight months after knee surgery. "She's had a few tough years and to come back as number one kind of motivates me because I know she had a big knee injury as well."

The Frenchwoman had to win the tournament to topple Davenport, who failed to advance to the semifinals. Davenport also ended the year at No. 1 in 1998 and 2001.

"It's not my main concern," said Mauresmo, who spent five weeks at the top after the U.S. Open before Davenport surpassed her.

Mauresmo's 11-match winning streak ended, which included titles in Austria and Philadelphia the last two weeks.

Mauresmo failed to convert any of her 12 break points in the third set, when Williams smacked winners on 10 of them.

"I felt like I forced her to play her best level and really make some passing shots and make some unbelievable saves," said Mauresmo, who dictated early from the back court. "She could also have missed, but she didn't."

Mauresmo had six break points in the fourth game, but Williams held at 2-all.

"I was really relaxed," Williams said. "In a different situation, I'm usually really tense and I'm really fighting and screaming. I really didn't feel as if I was going to lose."

Williams outlasted Mauresmo in a 13-deuce, 32-point game to hold for a 5-3 lead.

"It was definitely intense," Williams said. "Amelie was playing some good shots and getting the balls back. Finally, I was able to just do it. It was really hard. She started coming to the net a bit more and she was taking some pace off the ball. Then I just decided to go for it."

Mauresmo had five break chances and gambled by charging the net. But it cost her when she netted a forehand volley to lose the game.

"I thought it was a good idea because she was taking control of the points at the end of the second set in the back of the court," she said. "By coming in, I forced her to make these shots."

Mauresmo held to trail 5-4 before Williams served out the 2½-hour match, hitting an overhead smash off Mauresmo's short return on match point. Williams improved to 8-1 in her career against Mauresmo.

Williams has won two titles this year, but had no success in the Grand Slam events. She skipped the Australian Open while rehabilitating her knee, then had quarterfinal losses to Jennifer Capriati at both the French and U.S. Opens and lost the Wimbledon final to Sharapova after beating Mauresmo in a three-set semifinal.

"I don't believe I played the Wimbledon final," she said, half serious and half smiling. "I don't know who it was. I wasn't at Wimbledon this year."

Williams didn't start her season until March, then won the first tournament she played in Miami, beating Sharapova in the round of 16. Her second title came in September in Beijing.

"I'm really excited about myself. I'm going to be definitely a force to be reckoned with next year," she said. "The little work that I have been able to do has moved mountains for me, so I look forward to next year."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press