By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Serena Williams produced yet another dominating performance at the $721,000 Bank of the West Classic on Saturday night and appears ready to reclaim her spot atop the WTA Tour rankings.
Williams reached her first final since winning at Wimbledon last year by disposing of Sabine Lisicki, 6-1, 6-2, in the semifinals at Taube Family Tennis Center.
"Points were playing fast," Williams said. "I thought I played fast but I noticed she was playing even faster. Sometimes I just have to take a breath and change the pace a little bit."
Williams needed just under an hour to make her way into the championship match, her first ever appearance there at Stanford in her third visit to the event. Serena's older sister, Venus Williams, has won two titles at the Bank of the West Classic.
Williams put 69 percent of her first serves in play, saved all six break points she faced and never lost her serve. Lisicki had 22 unforced errors.
"I think both of us put too much pressure on ourselves with the serves," Williams said. "I know my serve didn't show up. There are still shots I'm not making that I know I can make."
Williams faces a tough opponent in Marion Bartoli, who is seeded third. She advanced when eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova withdrew (see separate story) from their semifinal because of a strained abdominal muscle.
"I was out practicing and no one could get a hold of me," Bartoli said. "I did not know she had to pull out until I got here."
Bartoli beat Williams the last time they met; in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Sunday's winner earns a nice paycheck worth $111,000. The match starts at noon.
Williams may be a stranger to Stanford but she's no stranger to winning. She owns 37 WTA titles, including 13 Grand Slam titles. Only Venus Williams, with 43, has more among active players.
"Winning is like a drug," Williams said. "Once you get it, you never want it to stop. I feel like a kid again."
Williams becomes the fourth unseeded finalist since the tournament moved to Stanford in 1997, and the first since 2008, when Caroline Wozniak beat Bartoli for the championship.
Williams missed nearly a year of the tour recovering from right foot surgery. This is her third tournament since winning at Wimbledon last year, and is her first tournament on American soil since the U.S. Open in 2009. It's also her first final in the United States since March of 2009 in Miami.
Bartoli reached her third final in four years at Stanford and will be seeking her second title. She won in 2009.
"Coming back to a place where you have had some success in the past helps," she said. "But I also knew I needed to practice hard during this time after Wimbledon, to make sure I was keeping my level. That's definitely something I have had in mind during this time off. When I came back here one week before this tournament started, I was already feeling really good."
Lisicki, who is exactly eight years and four days younger than Williams, also missed a significant amount of time on the tour, losing five months to a left ankle injury. She played Williams for the first time.
"At Wimbledon we were talking about our comebacks," Williams said. "I think we just connected. We talked a lot about how hard it was to get back in shape. Now we're both playing well."
A tournament victory would push Williams back among the top 100. Bartoli will remain at No. 9 no matter what happens.
"No matter what happens it's exciting to be moving on," Williams said. "My goal is to be ranked higher than I was. I'm better player now than I was at Wimbledon. There's no place to slip, I can only move up."
Lisicki reached her third semifinal (or better) in each of her last three tournaments and has won 22 of her 27 matches since the beginning of May.
"I have never played her before so I did not know what to expect," Lisicki said. "I'm not used to having the ball come back at me so hard. It was a new experience, a learning experience."
In doubles play, Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond beat Shukio Aoyama and Rika Fujikawa, 6-1, 6-2, in the final match of the day. They will meet Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko in Sunday's doubles final.
Azarenka and Kirilenko downed Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 4-6, 6-3, 10-5, to advance. The doubles winner shares a $35,500 paycheck.