Serena Williams survived a searing examination of her title credentials, finishing on the right side of a capricious three-setter against fellow American Alison Riske 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to enter the last four at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
At the start of the tournament, the 23-time Major champion was drawn alongside three former World No.1s, the current best player and three former Wimbledon champions. Even as the quarter was sliced open by a series of upsets, Serena elevated her level like only she can to book a place in her 12th Wimbledon semifinal, where she will play Barbora Strycova who beat home favourite Johanna Konta 7-6(5), 6-1. For the record, she has lost only one of those, way back in 2000.
It was a match that Serena admitted she wouldn’t have won two weeks ago. “This is the first time since Australia that I actually felt, like, good,” she said later. “I don't know where I am [level-wise]. I do know I feel good.”
“Now that I feel good, I can actually focus on training and technique and practice, something that I just haven't been able to do a lot of. I needed to fight Alison. She was not giving it to me. I needed to step up and take it. That's what I had to do.”
That trait made its first appearance towards the end of the first set, with Serena, from a break down at 3-4 going on a roll to clinch it 6-4. After having struggled until then to find the right length from the baseline, she drilled three deep, inch-perfect returns that Riske found too tough to handle.
Serena did fluff two of the break points thus earned, but an unforced error on the third from Riske helped her restore parity. She let out a cry, as if to clear the fog that had settled over her game. It appeared to work, as he blasted three aces and a winner to hold serve to 5-4 and overpower Riske again to take the set.
But 29-year-old Riske, like she had done in each of her four previous matches which all went the distance, wouldn’t give up. She took care of her serve and let the pressure do its bidding on Serena. She won 80% of her service points in the second set – against a match average of 55 — and in turn stretched her opponent to deuce in three of her four service games.ALSO READ | Becker’s missing trophies still taxing bankruptcy trustees
Serena wriggled out of the first two with some clutch serving – she served 19 aces overall – but couldn’t summon her best in the third. Riske got to break point with a fine pass before converting it with a great pick-up volley. And when she broke Serena in the opening game of the third, she held the upper hand.
However, the match turned again. Riske’s chances, like it had against Ashleigh Barty, rested on her capability to prolong the rallies and move in for the assured kill. With Serena’s movement a tad restricted, it served well for three fourths of the match, before Serena found a gear to which Riske had no answer.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion broke back and held to love – three aces and a cross-court backhand winner – to soothe nerves. Riske felt the pressure and lost her serve again, with two double faults doing utmost damage. She did manage to get a break back when Serena inexplicably lost from 40-15 up, but it did nothing to shift the momentum.
Elsewhere, No.7 Simona Halep defeated Shuai Zhang 7-6(4), 6-1 to enter her first semifinal at SW19 since 2014, where she will meet No.8 Elina Svitolina who overcame Karolina Muchova 7-5, 6-4.
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