WIMBLEDON, England -- Losing in Paris, Serena Williams said, helped her win the semifinals of Wimbledon.
|Serena Williams says she plans to increase her level for the final.|
Pumping her fist, serving with power and even belting out an emotional "C'mon!" after winning an 18-stroke game, Serena's past did influence her present as she defeated Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday in a rematch of their French Open final.
"I went home and worked a little harder than normal (after Paris)," Williams said. "I was definitely really focused and, you know, I realize there's players out there that I have to be on my toes and I can't sit down and watch the Golden Girls all day. I have to watch some film instead sometimes.
"I mean, it's definitely tough, but at least once I tried to do that. So it definitely got me going a little more, and I think in the long run it is better, for sure."
When asked about the rivalry between them, neither player rose to the bait.
"I'm just here to play tennis and I have to be in this environment for many, many years," Williams said. "In order to be in this environment, you have to be happy with yourself and be able to communicate with other players that are your colleagues, so to say.
"So it's you guys; it's not us."
Henin-Hardenne added: "We don't have any problem between each other. And, you know, the past is the past, and we never live with that. So, I mean, I think that we're both very professional and, you know, we'll have to play a lot of times against each other, and it's good if we can get a good relationship."
Good relationship or not, Henin-Hardenne seemed to let the moment -- and Williams -- intimidate her. Williams lead 4-0 before Henin-Hardenne rallied to win the next three games. In what turned out to be the most crucial game of the match, Henin-Hardenne served at 4-3 when Williams stepped up to win the game to serve for the set. A fist pump and a shrieking "Yes!" expressed Serena's relief.
"She was just too good today," Henin-Hardenne said, "and I didn't play my best tennis for sure. I was getting nervous a little bit at the beginning of the match, and she just deserved it."
Serena will play her sister Venus, who was heading into the practice courts across the street with her father and coach Richard Williams as Serena took the court. Venus defeated Clijsters 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, and secured her sister's world No. 1 ranking in the process.
Against her sister, Serena would like to improve her serving. She got in 66 percent of her first serves, winning 74 percent of those points. That percentage drops to 47 percent on second serves.
"I would like to get my serves to 80 -- OK, 75 percent, at least," Williams said to first disbelieving looks, and then laughter. "I'm at 66. Yeah, I will look at the stats. I think there's a lot of stuff that I could up for sure."
Including her level of play.
"This is gonna be the final ... you can never stay on the same level."
And it helps to be playing her sister.
"When I see her playing so well," Serena said, "I want to do better ... I realize that I really want to stay on top.
So when she's doing all the things that she should do, I just really start practicing harder myself, so it definitely motivates me."
She's hardly needs the motivation. She uses that strong first serve to put her in position to dictate play. When she's not on serve, she varies the pace, power and placement of her shots to keep opponents off-balance.
In the first game of the second set, it was advantage Henin-Hardenne. Williams sent Henin-Hardenne from side to side and back again. At the end of the point, a tired Henin-Hardenne, panting, ran out of steam. A default on the next point gave Williams the game.
"I think today that she had a high level of tennis, for sure," Henin-Hardenne said. "I think she wanted so much to win this match, and she probably will try to do her best to win the tournament. But I think she just proved that she's No. 1 in the world. And especially on the fast surfaces, she's very tough to beat."
The rivalry -- created by the media or not -- failed to even produce a third set. And once again, the old question was raised. Is there anyone out there that can actually beat Serena?
"Well," Serena said, pausing as she lowered her eyes, "who knows?"
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.