By Laura Amato
Serena Williams will be in the US Open semifinals, but her path there wasn’t particularly pretty.
The world No. 1 saw her serve broken for the first time in the tournament and lost a set in Flushing Meadows for the first time this year, but the veteran star found a way to come back, defeating fifth-seeded Simona Halep, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night.
“I didn’t have to be too amped up because it’s the quarterfinals and it’s a tough player. I just knew I needed to be ready,” Williams said. “I feel OK. I’m not at 100%, but I’m OK. Nothing to complain too much about.”
It was the first true test of the Grand Slam for Williams, who came into the tournament battling a lingering shoulder injury. The issue had been at the root of her early exit in Rio and her loss at Wimbledon, but over the last week and a half, Williams had settled back into a rhythm on the court, appearing almost unstoppable.
Williams was in control early during her semifinal match, but Halep came into her own in the second and saved all 12 break points, including five when she served for the set at 5-4.
“You know, it’s happened to me in the past before, but like I said on the court, I just stay positive,” Williams said. “I’m glad I had the break points as opposed to not having them. That’s the only thing I can do, and hopefully I can start getting more.”
Halep’s strong play didn’t deter Williams—a six-time US Open champion—who gained the break in the third game of the third set and held on to take the match.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough and, right now, after a summer filled with injury and almost-theres, enough is all Williams is looking for.
“I think there is a huge enjoyment in the three-set matches, but I just feel like you don’t get that appreciation until later,” she said. “Obviously in the moment you want to win fast and you want to win easy and win in straights. You really feel that appreciation much later.”
“I’m glad I got tested. The best part of it is I feel like—I mean, I think her level really picked up in the second, but I had some opportunities that I didn’t take,” Williams added.
Williams will face off against 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who defeated Ana Konjuh, 6-2, 6-2, in the early session Wednesday.
Pliskova is on a roll of her own at the Open, boasting 10 straight match victories, including victories over four top-10 players.
A berth in the final won’t come easy for Williams, but the world’s top tennis player isn’t lacking for confidence. She knows she can do enough to win.
“I have been really stressed out in a few of the matches, but I felt pretty good in most of the rounds,” Williams said. “I feel like I could have played a lot better. I think what makes me really calm is the fact that I know I can play so much better and I have to—yeah, I know that. I think everyone here knows I can play better.”