Serena the one to watch as finals near at US Open

New York: The numbers do not lie: Serena Williams has 13 Grand Slam titles, and the other seven women left in the US Open draw have none.

Little wonder that the power-hitting American is a strong favourite to finish this week with another glittering trophy in her collection.

"There are certain people who are pretty special," said Tracy Austin, who was one of those people back in her day, "and sometimes we don`t appreciate it `til they`re gone."

"I can`t remember a time in a while when there was as big a gap between Serena, the favourite, and the rest."

Williams` run at the title is scheduled to resume Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she`ll play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 20-year-old Russian who has already matched her deepest run in a major by making it to the quarterfinals.

Play on Tuesday was washed out when a slow-moving rainstorm moved over the Big Apple. That will force tournament officials to push some big-name players -- Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki -- onto outside courts when play resumes.

Williams, though, will be on centre stage, as usual, and will likely remain there to be for the rest of the week. A favourite coming into the tournament, her odds have only grown shorter -- 4-11 with some bookmakers in Europe -- as the other big names have lost (Maria Sharapova), withdrawn (Serena`s sister, Venus) or failed to show up (Kim Clijsters).

"For her to lose the US Open, she`s going to have to have a really bad day and someone else is going to have to have a day where they`re just really in the zone," Austin said.

The candidates include No.1-ranked Wozniacki, who has been to only one Grand Slam final, and No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, who has been to two Grand Slam finals and won just eight games across those two matches; five of them against Williams at Wimbledon last year.

Last year, Zvonareva fell 6-2, 6-1 in the US Open final to Clijsters, the two-time defending champion who would have likely been Williams` best competition had she not pulled out before the tournament with an abdominal injury.

It was two years ago, when Clijsters played Williams in the semifinals, that Williams got mad at a line judge who called a foot fault against her on a second serve when she was two points away from losing the match. The tirade that followed earned her a point penalty that ended the match.

She missed last year as she dealt with an injury that came when she stepped on broken glass in a restaurant in Germany last summer. This could be the first time she`s been at full health since that moment, which came only weeks after she won Wimbledon.

After her latest victory, a 6-3, 6-4 win over Ana Ivanovic, Ivanovic conceded it`s intimidating going against such a presence. This from a player who was ranked No. 1 only three years ago.

"I really try not to look so much across the net," Ivanovic said. "I just tried to focus on my game and tried to do everything that I can."

Which will be Pavlyuchenkova`s strategy, too.

"I don`t want to go out there and enjoy just being on the centre court playing against Serena," she said. "I would like to do well, try to fight, and with my effort I try to beat her. But of course I respect her a lot, as well. She`s just great."

If Williams wins three more matches, it wouldn`t be the first time she`s won a major since working her way into playing shape following a long break. She won the 2007 Australian Open after a year in which she played only four tournaments and was criticized for looking out of shape.

"Yes, Kim Clijsters came back and won the US Open in her third tournament back," Austin said of Clijsters` win in 2009.

"That`s unusual. But Serena has done this multiple times, where she`s been off for a long, long time and came back and won the tournament because she`s just a better athlete than everybody else and she has better mental toughness than everybody else. I don`t think there are other players, other sports, where this happens."

Bureau Report

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