Safarova overcomes nerves, Serena battles through illness to reach final

French Open: Lucie Safarova defeats Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams defeats Timea Bacsinszky on Day 12. 
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PARIS – Catch up on the news and results from Day 12 at the French Open, where the final four women battled it out for a spot in Saturday's final.  

Lucie Safarova overcomes her nerves to make her first Slam final: Safarova, always a talented player without the requisite milestones on her resume, rallied from 2–5 down in the first set to beat Ana Ivanovic 7–5, 7–5 in Thursday's semifinal. The 28-year-old Czech extended her head-to-head record to 6–3 against Ivanovic, who was bidding to make her first Slam final since winning the French Open seven years ago. 

Daily Data Viz: Ana Ivanovic vs. Lucie Safarova in the semifinals

After shaking off a slow start to blitz Ivanovic, Safarova served for the match at 5–4 in the second set, only to double-fault three times—including once match point—to get broken back. But she rebounded perfectly, breaking Ivanovic in the next game and serving it out. 

"The game at 5–4 I was really like over-thinking and couldn't really concentrate to be there in the moment," Safarova said. "My serve wasn't working, and, yes, it was a little bit fighting with everything on the court at that moment. But when I lost the serve I, like, shake it off and started to play aggressive again, and then I served it out."

Safarova is 0–8 against Serena but she'll take a huge amount of confidence going into the final. She has not lost a set in six matches, beating quality opponents in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Kurumi Nara, defending champion Maria Sharapova, Garbine Muguruza and now Ivanovic. This is the best sustained quality that Safarova has ever played at in a major. 

Serena Williams battles through illness to beat Timea Bacsinszky in three sets: Serena reeling off 10 consecutive games? We've see that before. Serena down a set and a break and winning? We've seen that throughout this fortnight. Serena wobbling and seemingly under physical distress looking on the verge of pulling the ripcord? That was worrisome.

Daily Data Viz: Serena Williams vs. Timea Bacsinszky in the semifinals

Only Serena knows how she was able to come back from a set and a break down to beat No. 23 Bacsinskzy at 6–4, 3–2 to pull out 4–6, 6–3, 6–0 win and advance to her third straight Slam final. She looked on the verge of tears in the first set and repeatedly slumped in her chair on changeovers, covering herself with ice towels with a definite look of concern. Her opponent, the wily Swiss who looked un-cowed by the occasion of her first Slam semifinal, was playing brilliant tennis. The 25-year-old had an answer for every power shot Serena sent her way through a set and a half, counter-punching when she needed to and putting away weak balls with ease. 


But then Bacsinszky blinked. She did her best to ignore what was going on with her opponent across the net, but as she stood on Court Philippe Chatrier just three games from the French Open final, Bacsinszky threw in her worst game of the match and virtually gave away her break advantage with a handful of unforced errors, just when she had Serena on the ropes. It was all downhill from there. With a new lease on life, Serena came out of shell. After hitting just eight winners in the first set, Serena rebounded to power into the third set with 17 winners. She hit just once ace in the first set—she hit six in the second. As the two women rounded the corner into the third, Serena had, as Bacsinszky told reporters, "leveled up."

"She's the only one who knows how she was feeling," Bacsinszky said. "I have no idea how fit she was or not. I knew on court it would be a difficult match. I never forgot that. So I always tried to push myself as far as I could like to try to win the match and she was better today. She pulled out a great match, because I think I was playing quite well."

Five thoughts from the French Open women's semifinals on Day 12

​Bacsinszky will rue her missed opportunity. As Serena got better, Bacsinszky felt the pressure and began to misfire, unlike her play during the first hour of the match. In the first set she hit 16 winners to just eight unforced errors, but in the second set that dropped to eight winners to six unforced errors. In the final frame just two winners came off her racket, while she misfired 10 times. 

"If you feel that the other one is leveling up their game, I mean, you have also to stand there and to show that you're going to be ready for any storm, tsunami, or whatever is going to happen," Bacsinszky said. "And I was aware of that, and that's why, for sure I'm sad because we are all great competitors and we don't like to lose, but it was already way better than the last time I played her."

The question now is whether Serena can recover in the next 48 hours for Saturday's final. The on-court interviewer told the crowd Serena was sick with the flu and had to cut her on-court interview short. Ninety minutes after the end of the match there was still no word on a time for her post-match press conference and Serena eventually postponed her press conference to see tournament doctors.