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Serena rallies from brink, punches ticket to French Open semis

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 02: Serena Williams of the United States hits a forehand during the Ladies Singles quarter final match against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan on day twelve of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros on June 2, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
June 2, 2016 03:13 PM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

For the first time at this year’s French Open, Serena Williams found herself on the verge of crashing out of the tournament. But as she has done so many times in her career, she found a way to win without ever playing her best tennis.

The defending champion and world No. 1, at one stage five points away from elimination, battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Kazakhstan outsider Yulia Putintseva, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

The victory is Serena's 12th in a row at Roland Garros and her 44th Grand Slam win in her past 46 matches dating back to the 2014 US Open.

Williams now plays world No. 58 Kiki Bertens in Friday’s semifinal, with a spot in the championship match against either No. 4 seed Garbine Muguruza or 21st-seeded Sam Stosur on the line. Bertens and Williams have met just once before, with the American defeating the Dutchwoman, then a qualifier ranked No. 110 in the world, in straight sets in the second round of last summer's US Open.

Bertens, 24, has already defeated four seeds through the first five rounds of competition, upsetting Australian Open champion and No. 3 seed Angelique Kerber in Round 1, No. 29 seed Darya Kasatkina in the third round, 15th-seeded Madison Keys in the round of 16 and No. 8 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the quarterfinals.

Williams, chasing her 22nd major title, which would tie Steffi Graf’s Open era record, will pose a new problem to solve, but Bertens may take confidence from the fact that Williams looked vulnerable for the first time this week on Thursday.

Competing in her 10th French Open quarterfinal, Williams was far from her dominant self. The 34-year-old hit twice as many winners (36) as her opponent but also committed 43 unforced errors to Bertens’ 16.

While the third set consisted of one-way traffic, with the outcome was rarely in doubt, the first two sets gave the 21-time Grand Slam women’s singles champion her first true test in the French capital. She dropped serve in the third game of the match and then again at 5-5, which afforded 60th-ranked Putintseva a chance to set the wheels of an upset in motion.

The duo traded a pair of breaks each in the second stanza, with Williams running out to a 4-1 lead and being pegged back to 4-4 before eventually tying the match. Had Putintseva won either of the break points she created in that ninth game, she would have had a chance to serve out the match. As it happened, it was as close as she would come to completing the biggest upset of the tournament.

Putintseva’s resistance finally cracked for good moments later. Williams broke the Kazakh twice in a row to start the final set, reeling off five games in a row before Putintseva could get on the board. By that time, the writing was already on the wall, and Williams punched her ticket to the semifinals on her fourth match point.

 

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