Serena Williams survives first test of French Open, advances to semifinals
By Nick Zaccardi
PARIS -- Three thoughts on No. 1 Serena Williams’ 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open quarterfinals on Tuesday …
1. Williams passed first test at Roland Garros. If there’s anybody who can go toe to toe with the most powerful women’s player ever, it’s Kuznetsova. The Russian, 27, is a gutty two-time major champion with an aggressive game and a tattoo under her right arm that reads, “Pain doesn’t kill me. I kill the pain.” Williams can beat many players before leaving the locker room. Not Kuznetsova. She was clearly not intimidated, despite losing the first set in 28 minutes.
Her veteran savvy showed between the first and second set, when she left the court for a medical timeout because of an abdominal injury. She forced Williams’ first break of serve all tournament en route to the second-set win. For the first time in Paris, Williams cracked.
“If you can win a Grand Slam without losing a set, who wouldn’t choose to do that?” Williams said. “But when you do go three sets, you’ve got to look at the positive side.”
Williams responded in the third set, coming back from 2-love down to win five straight games.
“I really felt the crowd,” Williams said. “When I was down in the third, I heard so many people saying, ‘Come on, Serena.’ … I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
She’s in her first French Open semifinal since 2003. It was 10 years ago Wednesday that Williams’ 33-match Grand Slam winning streak was broken by Justine Henin in that semi.
How’s she feeling?
“Pretty fit,” said Williams, even though, “I had some chocolate yesterday … and the day before and the day before … and the day before. Macaroons, that’s my weakness.
“When I do eat these things I only eat like one or two, literally, and then I throw the rest away. That’s the key.”
2. The semifinals (and, likely, the final) should be a breeze. Williams will play Sara Errani, the pocket Italian who surprised with a run to the finals here last year. Errani is ranked and seeded fifth, but she’s 1-28 against top-five players. That one victory came Tuesday when she defeated No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-6 (6).
Williams is 5-0 against Errani, including two straight-set victories on clay, the most recent at the Madrid Open last month. We’ve seen Williams get shocked here before -- Errani is certainly more dangerous than Virginie Razzano -- but expect her to notch a 30th straight win and remain undefeated this year on clay.
You could argue that Kuznetsova gave Williams more problems than any of her potential final opponents. Maria Sharapova, yet to drop a set, hasn’t beaten Williams in nine years. Victoria Azarenka has won eight total games in two clay matches against Williams, who rolled 6-1, 6-3 in the Italian Open final last month.
“It will be a big surprise if somebody can beat her here,” Kuznetsova said.
Asked who she would like to play in a potential final, Williams said, “I hope to see me there.”
3. Kuznetsova is back. There were questions about Kuznetsova entering 2013 after she had season-ending knee surgery following a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year. Her ranking fell to No. 85 and she was forced to play qualifiers to get into an Australian Open tune-up in Sydney. But Kuznetsova reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne, and she confirmed she's back with a strong effort at Roland Garros.
Kuznetsova came into the French Open ill. She said she was still coughing and not able to breathe well but felt better with every match.
“I did put her to the limit today,” Kuznetsova said.
Kuznetsova, a former No. 2, will return to the top 30 next week. She’ll keep climbing. She has a mere five rankings points to defend the rest of the year -- that first-round Wimbledon appearance -- and is playing top-20 tennis.
Grass is not her specialty -- her two majors being the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open -- but there’s a gap separating the top three women from the rest of the WTA. Kuznetsova, in her 14th year as a pro, could be included in that second group behind Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka if she keeps this up.“She’s won two Grand Slams,” Williams said. “That doesn’t take luck.”