MELBOURNE: Serena Williams agrees with everyone else that her footwork and movement are better these days than they’ve been for a bit — and that’s a big reason she’s closing in on what would be a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Here’s what she wants to make clear, though, as a blockbuster Australian Open semifinal against Naomi Osaka approaches on Thursday: this is nothing new.

Serena Williams20210218 800x597 - Serena’s court coverage brings her near No. 24
Serena Williams AP PHOTO

As much as Williams thrives with her best-in-the-game serves, superb returns and booming groundstrokes, her ability to cover the court has long been a staple of her success. Yes, it’s been below par — “the last two, three years,” in her coach’s estimation — but is once again an asset, thanks in part to finally getting past a problematic left Achilles.

Two key points during a 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal victory over No. 2 seed Simona Halep on Tuesday illustrated this element of Williams’ game. Coming at deuce while Halep served at 3-all in the second set, the first lasted 21 strokes, the second 13. Both were extended by Williams’ defense. Both ended with forehand misses by Halep. Both helped Williams break serve as part of a five-game, match-closing run.

Asked how long it’s been since she felt she owned those sorts of lengthy, pivotal points, Williams crossed her legs, folded her hands and cracked herself up with a joke.

“It’s definitely been a minute. It’s been a long minute. I think 1926 — the summer of 1926, I think — was the last time I felt that,” Williams said before turning more serious.

“I’m good at rallying and I have to embrace the things I’m good at. I’m good at playing power. I’m good at hitting 100 balls,” said the 39-year-old American, whose most recent major championship came at the Australian Open in 2017. AP

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