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NEW YORK -- In her most boisterous display of emotion so far this tournament, Serena Williams jumped and smiled Saturday night after clinching her semifinal victory over Caroline Wozniacki.
It has been awhile, but Williams is finally back where she belongs. And one could sense her relief as she celebrated on Arthur Ashe Stadium after finishing off Wozniacki, 6-2, 6-4.
"It's been such an arduous, long road," Williams told the crowd. "I can't believe it. I really can't."
One last step remains in the recoronation of Williams, who on Sunday will play in her first Grand Slam championship match since she won Wimbledon in 2010. Days after that victory, Williams sliced a tendon in her foot, an injury that led to surgeries, blood clots in her lungs, a hematoma -- and nearly a year away from competitive tennis.
To complete her remarkable climb back to the top of the women's game and claim her 14th career Grand Slam title, Williams still has to beat Samantha Stosur in Sunday's final. The outcome is hardly a foregone conclusion. But who would bet against Williams now?
"She's obviously been playing extremely well," Stosur said after beating Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 in the earlier semifinal. "She comes back, and I'm sure it's always to win Grand Slam titles."
If anybody might have a shot at Williams, it's Stosur. The two have played six times, and although Williams has a 4-2 edge, the two have split their last four meetings. Stosur defeated Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open, 8-6 in the third.
"I think the one good thing is that one of the matches I beat Serena was actually in a Grand Slam, so I think that's obviously a big confidence booster," Stosur said on Saturday night.
Their most recent match may be the most telling, though. Williams beat Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto last month.
Stosur will have one advantage going into Sunday's match, though: more rest. Although the 27-year-old Australian was snubbed by the USTA when her semifinal match was relegated to the Grandstand Court, it was Williams who got the raw deal Saturday night. She had to wait until after the men's semifinals were concluded, at about 10 p.m., to begin her match on Ashe. That means Serena will have about an 18-hour turnaround for the final.
"I think maybe the women could have played before the men seeing we had to play tomorrow," Williams said. "This is supposed to be a women's match tonight."
Williams did say she would discuss scheduling issues here with the player council.
The USTA has been forced to juggle the schedule because of rain delays earlier this week. Among the schedule adjustments: the moving of the women's semifinals from Friday afternoon to Saturday night, and the shifting of one of the two semifinals to the Grandstand Court to accommodate the men's matches on Ashe. Stosur beat Kerber out there Saturday night in a match that was over by about 8 p.m.
Stosur figures that those extra hours could give her an edge in the final, although it didn't take long for Williams to put away world No. 1 Wozniacki.
"Obviously, now, that hasn't turned out the way they wanted it, either, so it's one thing after another,'' said Stosur, who complained to the USTA about the scheduling.
"So everything is kinda gone a little crazy and haywire. I guess I will be back in my hotel while they're still playing, which is a good thing."
But whatever edge Stosur gains as she prepares for her second career Grand Slam final, she will still be the decided underdog going into the last Slam final of 2011. No player has managed to take a set from Williams this fortnight, including the No. 1 ranked player in the world, and Wozniacki was not even the toughest challenge Williams has faced so far.
Williams has an 18-0 record on hard courts this summer. But it's not just the way she's playing that makes her the favorite. It's the way she's thinking that makes her nearly impossible to beat right now.
"I really feel I don't have anything to lose,'' Williams said. "I've beaten all odds. Six months ago I was in the hospital and now I'm in the final."