Having struggled through her previous three rounds, all of which went to a deciding set, the world No1 ripped apart the fragile game of Italy’s Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3 and stands two wins away from a 20th grand slam title. On Thursday she will play Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky, a woman who two years ago was washing plates and working towards a career in hotel management. The contrast could not be plainer.
After her win over Sloane Stephens in the fourth round, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said he had not yet found a way here, this fortnight, to correct the American’s mindset. The fog has clearly lifted and she was much more like her usual self, ripping into returns and overpowering Errani, whose lack of physicality was always likely to make it a mismatch.
The first set zipped by but Errani stayed with her in the second, thanks to her willingness to scurry and retrieve everything within her reach. From 3-3, though, Williams stepped up another gear and though she got tight as the finishing line approached she was a hugely convincing winner.
“I felt really comfortable out there,” Williams said. “But then playing her I had to get out to a really fast start. The tougher it gets, the harder I have to play.”
Williams and Bacsinszky played each other on hard courts in Indian Wells this year, five years after their only other meeting, on the clay courts of Rome. While the intervening years have been kind to Williams, Bacsinszky became so disillusioned with the game she swapped her racket for a course in hotel management. The decision, she says, gave her perspective and a better attitude to life in general. On Wednesday, the 23rd seed reached her first grand slam semi-final with a 6-4, 7-5 win over the unseeded Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck. It was another assured performance from the 25-year-old who is the first Swiss woman to reach the last four at a grand slam since Patty Schnyder at the 2004 US Open.
“My colleagues didn’t know I was playing tennis,” she said of her hotel course. “All the time I asked my director not to make me any particular favours and just to treat me as another employee. It was just to be once treated as someone normal, not to have those VIP passes and the luck. Now I think I’m a better person.”
Williams will start as the overwhelming favourite but has plenty of respect for Bacsinszky, not least since she beat the Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, in the fourth round. “She’s a good player,” Williams said. “Most of all, she’s a major fighter. You can have a match point, be up a set, and she’s not going to give up. She’s had a really good year. It’s not going to be an easy match at all for me.
“I need to come out strong again. Most of all, I need to relax. If I win, great. If I lose, I want to be able to do the best that I can do. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m surprised I’m still in the tournament, so this is really cool for me.”
The other semi-final will be between Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, the champion here in 2008, and Lucie Safarova, the left-handed Czech who took out Maria Sharapova en route to the last four. They all have Serena to beat.
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