Tennis: Unstoppable Serena trying to block out Graf milestone

MELBOURNE - Serena Williams said Thursday she was trying to block out her chances of equalling Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles, not needing the extra stress as history again beckons.

The dominant world number one surged into her 26th major final by dismantling Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4 at the Australian Open, with her first set near flawless.

A win in Saturday's decider against seventh seed Angelique Kerber would see her match Graf's mark that has stood since the German great's last major win at the French Open in 1999.

But the American is trying to keep it off the radar, saying the pressure she was under when trying to equal Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert's 18 titles in 2014 was unbearable and not something she wanted again.

"I definitely block it out," she said of the Graf record. "I was one off last year, too. If I don't win on Saturday, I'll still be one off.

"It took me forever to get to 18. I was so stressed out. I don't want to relive that at all." Williams won her 17th title at the 2013 US Open but then went three Grand Slams, with the pressure building, before finally making it 18 a year later at Flushing Meadows.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Williams is already assured of being remembered as one of the best players the game has seen.

Yet despite being the undisputed world number one, winning eight of the last 14 Grand Slams, she said she did not allow herself to reflect on her record or relax.

"Not really, not yet," she said, when asked the question.

"I feel like when I play tougher opponents, when I play people that have beaten me in the past, is capable of doing so again, that I just have to be more focused.

"I've always said that when I'm playing at my best, it's difficult to beat me. Have I played at my best my whole career? I don't know.

"But I've been definitely trying to put in a lot of work and trying to get there." Williams missed out on a 22nd title at the US Open last year after winning all three other Grand Slams in 20015 - the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon.

After a devastating US Open semi-final defeat to Roberta Vinci, which ended her pursuit of a calendar Grand Slam - not achieved since Graf in 1988 - a drained Williams took a break from the game, only returning this month.

"I definitely think I needed the time off," she said.

"I've been going and going and going for a long time. Been really going hard since probably before the Olympics in 2012. That's a long time.

"So I felt like I really committed myself, and I need to commit to myself and my body and take some time off, restart." The break has worked wonders with the 34-year-old back with a bang at Melbourne Park.

Against Radwanska, she played a first set that was as near perfect as you can get, with the Pole hailing it as the best tennis she has ever faced.

Other opponents have also paid tribute to Williams, sentiments the veteran said were rewarding.

"It's awesome. It's really cool," she said. "And I could tell everyone is really motivated because when they're playing me they give maximum effort and maximum everything.

"It actually makes me a better player, too, because I'm going up against these players that are playing at their peak. So I have to be at my peak, as well, for every single game."

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