Serena Williams‘ road to a potential 24th Grand Slam singles title could be her toughest of them all — her last three matches at the Australian Open, if she advances, could be against the top three seeds.
Williams took out No. 2 seed Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. In the semifinals, she gets No. 3 Naomi Osaka on Thursday.
On the other half of the draw, just one of the four remaining players has Grand Slam final experience or is ranked in the top 20. That’s No. 1 Ash Barty, an Australian who hasn’t dropped a set all tournament.
Only twice in the Open Era has a woman beaten seed Nos. 1, 2 and 3 en route to a major title — Brit Virginia Wade at the 1968 U.S. Open and Steff Graf, when she defeated Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis to claim her 22nd and final Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 French Open.
Williams, who broke Graf’s record for Open Era major singles titles and wants to tie Margaret Court‘s all-time record, has three times beaten three of the top four seeds en route to a major title — 1999 U.S. Open, 2005 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon.
But never Nos. 1, 2 and 3, in part because so often she has been one of those top three seeds.
Not this month in Melbourne, where Williams is seeded 10th.
Last year, Williams failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time in a year since 2006. It didn’t help that Wimbledon was canceled, and that she withdrew during the last major, the French Open, with an Achilles injury.
But, while wearing a Florence Griffith Joyner-inspired outfit for each match, she put injury concerns to rest in sweeping her first three opponents and outlasting powerful No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets in the fourth round.
Against Halep, Williams just about reversed their last meeting, when Halep played the best match of her life in a 6-2, 6-2 victory in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Both Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill, said before the match that her movement has been her best since returning from childbirth in 2018.
“We’ve been struggling those last years because she had a lot of injuries, so she was not able to practice the way we wanted,” Mouratoglou said. “It’s a bit of a vicious circle because when you can’t practice well, you don’t get fit. When you’re not fit, you get more injured. We had to get out of this vicious circle.”
Williams made four finals in 10 major starts since having daughter Olympia.
She lost all four, including to Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open final, where Williams was given three code violations resulting in a game penalty. Osaka’s trophy ceremony was briefly overshadowed by boos and whistles from the crowd directed at chair umpire Carlos Ramos‘ violation calls. Williams consoled Osaka and later said she apologized to her in writing.
“I think we both have had closure,” Williams said after beating Halep. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing really in the semifinal. It’s a semifinal of a Grand Slam. No one gets there by chance, so I have got to be ready.”
Osaka is on a 19-match win streak. Her last defeat was more than a year ago. But Williams won their only meeting since the U.S. Open — in straight sets in 2019.
“I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court,” Osaka said.
Then there’s potentially Barty, who lost her only two meetings with Williams, but both came well before the Australian rocketed up the rankings in 2019 with a French Open title.
“It’s been a lot of players that really could win the title since the beginning of the draw,” Williams said. “I think there’s so many players that can come out and have won Grand Slams and can keep winning. It’s good. It’s good to see. It’s good to see that I’m in that mix, too.”
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