Serena Williams still in hot pursuit of record books in New York
The 36-year-old defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-3 to set up a US Open semi-final
Serena Williams during her match against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. Photograph: PA
Painful recent memories will ensure Serena Williams does not get ahead of herself despite now being the hot favourite to triumph in New York for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title.
Williams is the only player remaining who has previously won a grand slam title, and has lost only one match to all the other players combined — against Naomi Osaka in Miami earlier this year.
But Williams is all too aware that her last two US Open semi-finals have ended in shock defeats — to Pliskova two years ago and Roberta Vinci the year before that — while she was well beaten by Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final.
She said: “I’d been a couple steps away at the last grand slam, so I’m definitely not ahead of myself. I still know that no matter whether I’m in the semi-finals or the finals, I have a really long way to go to win that.
“I don’t have 10 more years — at least I don’t think so. I said that 10 years ago. I don’t think I have another 10 years of having opportunities to be able to play and win championships. Every match really means a lot to me.”
Pliskova was the only top-10 player left in the tournament and only the third Williams has faced since her comeback in March.
She lost the previous three and made a nervous start here. Had Pliskova been able to taken any of the chances she had after racing to a 4-1 lead with a double break in the opening set, the match might have panned out differently.
But Williams dug in with the help of her serve and, having settled into the match, reeled off eight straight games to lead 4-0 in the second.
There she became a little hesitant again and Pliskova pulled back to 4-2 and had Williams at 0-40 in the next game. Again, Williams served her way out of trouble before hitting three aces in the final game.
The 17th seed said: “That’s a really big step for me. Shocking, my first top-10 win. I really felt like I was playing well in Cincinnati, even though I lost (to Petra Kvitova). I was just on the verge. If I could have just had one more match before I played a top-10 player, I think I would have done better.
“I’m getting those matches now. So now I feel like I’m at a level where I can play and try to compete against these amazing women in the top 10.”
Williams will not have to face another top-10 player this week, but she has never played Sevastova before and the wily 19th seed offers a different challenge to most of the women on tour.
She plays with spin and angles and slice more than power and proved too strong for defending champion Sloane Stephens, who was battling a sinus infection, winning 6-2 6-3 in a reversal of the result at the same stage last year.
Sevastova retired in 2013 after a succession of injuries drained her motivation and spent two years studying leisure management.
The 28-year-old said: “It was an amazing journey, this three, four years. Right now you’re in the tournament, you’re playing next tournament next week, and you don’t feel it.
“But in the end it’s amazing, yes? You can’t believe. So, after I stop, at some point I will look at it and I will be proud of myself, for sure.
“I hope I will enjoy it, playing semi-finals. It’s not every day you play semi-finals of a grand slam.”
Pliskova was able to offer little encouragement regarding Williams’ level, claiming she is hitting the same heights as before her pregnancy.
“I don’t feel any difference,” said the Czech, who was disappointed with her own performance. “She’s playing with the same power. She can still serve well. I don’t think there’s any change with her game. She’s just going for her shots.”