NEW YORK – Six-time champion Serena Williams shook off a sluggish start to power past eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday and into the US Open semi-finals.
The US superstar, chasing a record-equalling 24th major title, surrendered an early break to Pliskova, but she roared back with a streak of eight straight games to put away the opening set and take a 4-0 lead in the second against the woman who beat her in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows in 2016.
“I just wanted to play better,” Williams said of her mindset as she trailed 3-1 in the first. “I was thinking, you know, I can play better, so that was the good news.”
Williams did indeed cut down on the errors, and came up with the big serves when she needed them.
She finished the match with 13 aces and will take on Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the final after the 19th-seeded Latvian toppled defending champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3.
Pliskova, who managed to convert just two of 12 break point chances in the contest, said Williams was simply too good in the important moments.
“She hit all first serves on the break points, which is always a little bit tougher to return,” Pliskova said. “The second set, she was just mixing the serve. She was going a lot of wide. Not much that I could do on the break points.”
Williams did drop her serve once in the second, coughing up one of her five double faults on break point as Pliskova narrowed the gap to 4-1.
But when she fell behind 0-40 in the seventh game she rescued herself with 112 mph (180 Km/h) service winner followed by another service winner and an ace.
Pliskova got another chance when Williams batted a forehand into the net, but another booming serve, a backhand winner and an unreturnable serve saw her safely through the danger.
Serving for the match at 5-3 Williams didn't allow any room for doubt, holding at love with two aces and an overhead smash followed by one last ace.
“I really feel like right now I'm playing free because I was having a baby this time last year, so I have nothing to prove,” said Williams, who is seeking her first major title since her daughter Olympia was born on September 1 of 2017.
With a win she would break out of a tie with Chris Evert for most US Open titles, and equal Margaret Court's all-time record for Grand Slams.
The semi-final lineup will be completed on Wednesday when Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro takes on 2017 runner-up Madison Keys and Japan's Naomi Osaka faces Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)