Ever since a 17-year-old Serena Williams won the 1999 U.S. Open with one of the great YouTube-able reactions once Martina Hingis' last ball sailed long …
Ever since that seventh-seeded teenager said, "I'm thinking, 'Should I scream? Should I yell? Should I cry? What should I do?'" …
And ever since she marshaled her game by age 20 to win four straight Grand Slams and five out of six …
She has loomed.
She has loomed even when absent through tragedy or injury. She has loomed even when present but ranked No. 81. She has loomed with a sense of the possible that trumps anybody else's sense of the possible. Nothing she accomplishes can astound.
Still, if you reasoned in 1999 that she would do something like this; if you forecast in 2002-03 that she could ravage a French Open this way; and if you foresaw even a year ago that she would have this passage …
Call yourself good at prognostication.
She's 31. She's into her second-ever French Open final on the surface that has inconvenienced her most (even if the her mighty 2013 clay season indicates solutions). And if you look at the numbers, she has a chance to make this -- this time, this juncture -- just about her most dominant Grand Slam.
During the 15 Grand Slams that Williams has won to date, she has lost anywhere between 29 and 64 games along the seven-match way. Only twice has she lost fewer than 40. Yet as she approaches another bout with a Maria Sharapova who appears overmatched in preview, Williams has lost 21 in six matches. A win such as, say, 6-4, 6-3, would make this her most dominant Slam, at least games-wise.
In that, let's allow her this: It's astounding.
As much as occasional fans might think of Williams as usually dominant, that doesn't cover her excellence. Of greater impression -- to me, anyway -- has been her capacity to own huge points to elude thickets in grueling matches. Her Grand Slam timeline has some real doozies, from the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinal with Victoria Azarenka (after trailing a set and 4-0), to the 2009 Wimbledon semifinal with Elena Dementieva (6-7, 7-5, 8-6, with one match point saved), to the 2005 Australian semifinal with Sharapova (2-6, 7-5, 8-6, with three match points saved), to the four three-set matches at that 1999 U.S. Open, to Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 French, Jie Zheng at Wimbledon 2012, Azarenka in the 2012 U.S. Open final (from 3-5 in the third set).
Factor in two classics with her sister Venus, both a 2003 Australian Open final (7-6, 3-6, 6-4) and an underrated 2008 U.S. Open quarterfinal of towering quality (7-6, 7-6), in which Serena Williams staved off 10 -- 10! -- set points.
Typically, there have been thick-match dramas, and, typically, Williams has surmounted them. For the last decade-and-a-half, the reliable properties of sports have included her inner ferocity and her capacity to summon it, just as she did at 0-2 and three break points in this French quarterfinal against the underappreciated Svetlana Kuznetsova.
As thick-match dramas go, though, that has been it for this French. Other than the three-set win against Kuznetsova, the other 10 sets go 6-0 (three times), 6-1 (four times), 6-2 (twice) and 6-3 (once). Match durations include 51 minutes, 52, 58, 70 and the preposterous 46 in the semifinal Thursday against 2012 finalist and Roland Garros-lover Sara Errani. Aces overall (not a humongous deal on clay, but …): 31-4. Break points: 29-for-60, against 4-for-13, with all four to Kuznetsova and the other victims 0-for-4 in five matches.
Points: 385-221. She has won almost two-thirds of the points.
This has told us a few newish things.
It tells that even as mighty a force as we know this player to be, she had another realm to demonstrate even at 31.
It reminds that all the way back at 17 in New York, all the way back when Hingis' last ball sailed and Williams placed a hand on her chest in disbelief, and when somebody asked about her 57 unforced errors that day, she said, "I mean, imagine if I could stop making those errors! Can you guys imagine? That's like, inconceivable, huh?"
It reminds that all the way back at the 2007 Australian, back when experts questioned her commitment to the game, back when she arrived ranked No. 81, she said after destroying Sharapova in the final, "When I'm playing well, it's difficult for anyone to beat me -- on the women's tour, just for the record."
(Laughter in the room.)
And it reminds that chronic champions, of course, tend to possess a bottomless, fathomless dislike for losing, one that exceeds most other people's. In the last 11 months, Williams has won Wimbledon, won the Olympics, won the U.S. Open and steamrolled to her first French final in 11 years with only 21 games lost -- all this since 54 weeks ago in Paris, when she famously lost to No. 111 Virginie Razzano in the first round, her only first-round loss in 51 Grand Slams.
It's clear that she disliked that.