Defending champion Serena Williams pulled out quite a comeback in the French Open quarter-finals Thursday, coming back from a set and a break down to beat 60th-ranked Yulia Putintseva 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
How close was Williams to her earliest exit at a grand slam tournament since Wimbledon in 2014? Putintseva twice was a point from serving for the biggest victory of her career.
“She played unbelievable. And I honestly didn’t think I was going to win that in the second set,” Williams said. “Somehow I did.”
Yes, Williams came through, as she so often does, overcoming not only a relentless competitor in Putintseva but also her own shakiness on a cloudy, chilly day that included a brief rain delay in the third game. The No 1-seeded American’s strokes were off, her range was wrong, to the tune of mistake after mistake after mistake.
She made 11 unforced errors before Putintseva committed a single one, and at the end of the first set, the count was 24-2, which seems like it might be a typo but isn’t. Williams got so desperate at one point that she shifted her racket to her left hand to try a shot that way – and whiffed.
By the end, the unforced error statistics read: Williams 43, Putintseva 16.
But by the end, too, Williams was asserting herself as no one else currently on tour can, winding up with twice as many winners as Putintseva, 36-18.
And now Williams can continue her quest for a 22nd grand slam title, which would equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record.
Kiki Bertens became the first Dutchwoman in 45 years to reach the French Open semi-finals with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Swiss eighth-seed Timea Bacsinszky.
Bertens, the world No 58, will be playing in her first grand slam semi-final where she will on Friday face world No 1 Williams.
Victory for Bertens was her 12th successive victory having arrived in Paris from Nuremburg where she had won the title as a qualifier.
She had knocked out Australian Open champion and third-seed Angelique Kerber in the first round before seeing off Bacsinszky, a semi-finalist in Paris last year.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Bertens who will now break the top 30 after her run in Paris.
“To be in the semis, it’s just crazy. To play Serena it will be a great match – she’s the No 1 in the world.
“I will just go out there and try and have fun and give it my all.”
Still on target to win a fourth straight major title and complete a career Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic advanced to the semi-finals at the French Open for a record sixth straight time.
The top-seeded Serb beat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 Thursday, a day after completing a four-set win over Roberto Bautista Agut.
“I’m very pleased to be in semi-finals of another grand slam,” Djokovic said after reaching his 30th major semi-final. “But because of the fact that I have to play every day, my focus right away goes for recovery and the next match. I don’t have much time.”
Only Roger Federer, with 39 major semi-finals, and Jimmy Connors, with 31, have participated in more major semi-finals in the Open era.
Djokovic will next face No 13 seed Dominic Thiem. The Austrian beat No 12 David Goffin of Belgium 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1.
A French Open victory would give Djokovic a 12th major title – two less than Rafael Nadal – and would also give him four consecutive grand slam titles, something no man has done since Rod Laver won all four in 1969.
After winning the first two sets, Djokovic was even with Berdych at 3-3 when they stopped playing because of rain. When they returned, Djokovic won the next three games and the match.
Berdych, however, felt the stoppage cost him valuable momentum, and was scathing about the decision to come off in conditions he considered were exactly the same as for most of the match on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“That was one of the worst calls that I ever had on the court,” the Czech player said. “We were playing two-and-a-half sets in the light rain.”
Celebrating his win, Djokovic called a ball boy onto the court and the pair waved to each side of the stadium.
In the other match on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Thiem and Goffin were playing in the quarter-finals of a major tournament for the first time.
Besides losing the match, Goffin also briefly lost control of his racket. After the first point of the tie-breaker in the second set, Goffin tossed his racket up in the air but failed to catch it, hitting himself in the face.
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