Serena Williams said growing up in Compton was like a paradise. She was with her family and she played the tennis star every day in the front yard.
She hasn't had to pretend much since reaching the No. 1 ranking for the first time in July of 2002. When the latest ranking comes out, Williams will have sat atop the women's tennis world for 200 non-consecutive weeks.
"I feel great about it," Williams said. "Every time I've been announced, he keeps saying 199, and I was thinking, 'hey, it's about time for 200.'"
Williams didn't need to beat eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic to secure the top spot again, but then she's a champion who doesn't know much else except giving it her all.
Williams won her 12th consecutive match, dating to the 2008 semifinal, in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in getting past the ninth-ranked Petkovic, 7-5, 6-0, in a match that was much more competitive than the final score would indicate.
Williams will meet third-seeded Angelique Kerber, who recovered from a 5-2 deficit in the second set to beat Varvara Lepchenko, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in the late semifinal.
"I would have beaten a lot of other players the way I played the first set," Petkovic said. "The second set I made some decent serves and she just fired them right back at me."
The third point of the second set contained a couple of longer rallies that displayed both players' heart in trying to win. Petkovic won the longest rally when Williams hit the ball into the net to go take an advantage.
Williams came back to win the game, and ultimately the match.
"I was so distraught," said Williams, who sank to her knees afterward. "She was playing so well and moving so well and I was on the defensive. I finally had an easy shot and missed it. I like playing those long points. It tests your fitness and how you bounce back."
Petkovic, who beat Venus Williams in three sets during Friday's quarterfinal, was overwhelmed by playing against the Williams' family.
"Playing one of them is a lot," Petkovic said. "Playing two of them in a row was so strange, like playing a video game. It was the most awkward situation I've ever been in. I idolized them and admired them growing up. They had so much charisma and they were so different."
Williams, with 661 career wins, will be going for her 61st career title against either third-seeded Angelique Kerber or unseeded Varvara Lepchenko on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Petkovic has won four titles, Kerber has three titles and Lepchenko has never reached a final.
Williams, at age 32, remains the best in the world at a time when most players are thinking about life after tennis. She's 29-5 this year and will be going after her fourth title. That's the stuff of legends.
"Sometimes I think about it all," Williams said. "Just not enough. I've done everything I need to do and I should be just enjoying it and having fun. Winning this tournament is important to me. I'm trying to get back on track."
In Compton, The Williams' sisters used to play on the cement and pretend it was the U.S. Open, or sprinkle some dirt around and pretend it was the French Open, and spread some grass around and pretend it was Wimbledon.
Maybe that's where her mind can remind her of playing tennis for the love of the game, away from the hype, the fame and the fortune.
Maybe when she's on the court, in a rhythm, she can occupy that little girls' persona playing in the front yard, playing in paradise, without a care in the world.