by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams reached the semifinals of the French Open on Thursday after battling back from a set and a break down against Yulia Putintseva, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
Putintseva, who represents Kazakhstan and is currently the No. 60 player in the world, had been on a great run to reach the quarterfinals, beating the No. 12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro and the No. 28 seed Andrea Petkovic along the way.
This run may have been rather unexpected for the 21-year old Putintseva as she had lost three of her four previous matches coming into the tournament, including one to a player ranked outside of the Top 100.
On a chilly day with difficult conditions, Putintseva was able to put that to the side and continue her confident play in Paris, not letting the task of facing the 21-time major champion in Williams get to her.
“I feel like she gives 200 percent on every single point…she’s a fighter,” said Williams of Putintseva before the match began, and she was spot on with her statement.
In the early goings, the Kazakh looked confident and in charge as she fought through a deuce game in her first service game of the match before having a look at two break points in the next game. Putintseva capitalized on the second and held at love to consolidate for a 3-1 lead early on.
Williams was able to break back and appear to kill off the challenge from her opponent, as we have seen so many times before from Williams with her killer instinct, but this match was different. Putintseva fought hard, losing only one point in her next three service games, and broke in the 11th game of the set after fighting back from a 40-0 deficit before holding at love to close out the set.
The first set saw an enormous difference in the unforced error tally, as Williams hit 24 while Putinsteva only hit two.
The charge continued early in the second set as Putintseva was able to break in the first game, sending major warning bells throughout the tennis world that the No. 1 player was in trouble.
Those alarms were quickly silenced, however, as Williams rattled off the next four games to jump out to a 4-1 lead. Putintseva continued her tenacious fight, though, breaking back and getting the set to 4-4, where she had a look at two break points for a chance to serve for the match.
Williams was able to fight those off and used her experience and overall advantage in the skill department to break in the next game, completely diminishing the confidence of the 21-year old as she levelled the match at a set apiece, the dagger coming on a double fault from Putintseva while down set point.
The third set was a breeze for Williams as she felt little resistance from Putintseva, racing out to a 5-0 lead before eventually closing out the match with a 6-1 third set win.
Putintseva, despite the loss, was able to remain positive and is looking forward to the future.
“I had some great wins here. I won some really good matches. I’m really happy with that. I’m really happy with the level that I was playing during all of this tournament…I got a lot of experience now,” said Putintseva.
Williams, who always seems to be due for one massive scare during her journey to the final of a major, showed just how she has been able to rack up 21 major titles and hold on to the No. 1 ranking for 295 weeks.
“At one point I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel…She played unbelievable. I honestly didn’t think I was going to win, but somehow I did,” said Williams.
Her opponent in the semifinals will be the Cinderella story Kiki Bertens, who is making a lot of personal history this fortnight in Paris.
The Dutchwoman has been able to not only reach her first semifinal at a major, but also her first quarterfinal, will reach a new career high ranking of at least No. 27, and has clinched her spot on the Dutch team at the summer Olympics in Rio this summer.
Bertens has defeated the No. 3 seed Angelique Kerber, the No. 15 seed Madison Keys, the No. 29 seed Daria Kasatkina, and now the No. 8 seed Timea Bacsinsky after her straight sets win on Thursday.
Bertens, who is now on a 12-match win streak, was able to dispatch Bacsinsky 7-5, 6-2.