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Serena Williams into U.S. Open semifinals, beats former No. 1

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NEW YORK  — Serena Williams began her U.S. Open quarterfinal tentatively. Her shots lacked their usual sting, her attitude its usual conviction.

She was facing the last player she lost to at Flushing Meadows, and perhaps that was the problem. After just 20 minutes Tuesday night, Williams was in danger of trailing by two service breaks. Not much later, the outcome was no longer in doubt, because the 23-time Grand Slam champion suddenly was in complete control.

Williams put aside some early shakiness and an early deficit, turning things around with an eight-game run en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova for a spot in the semifinals.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to try harder,’” said Williams, who wound up with 22 of her 30 unforced errors in the first set.

Pliskova is a big server and hitter in her own right, someone who briefly spent time at No. 1 in the WTA rankings and was the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2016, when she beat Williams in the semifinals. The 36-year-old American did not compete in New York a year ago, because she gave birth to her daughter during the tournament.

Go back to 2015, and that was another semifinal departure for Williams, whose bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam was shockingly ended by Roberta Vinci.

“Well, I want to just be able to get past the semis here. It’s been a few, couple, rough semis for me,” Williams said. “But regardless, this has been a great road.”

This time, Williams’ semifinal opponent will be No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who surprisingly beat defending champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3 earlier Tuesday.

“Still long way to go, I think,” Sevastova said.

Especially considering that the next step will come against Williams, who’s heading into her 36th semi at a major, 12th at Flushing Meadows.

It did take Williams a little while to get going as she pursues a seventh U.S. Open title.

That sluggish start came in the heat and humidity that hampered John Isner in his quarterfinal loss to Juan Martin del Potro on Tuesday afternoon, and Roger Federer in his fourth-round exit against John Millman a night earlier.

With her older sister, Venus — the woman she beat in the third round — in her guest box, Williams looked tight. Her timing was off. She put a backhand into the net to get broken to 2-1 at the outset.

Then, down 3-1, she faced three break points; if Pliskova won any, she would have led 4-1. But Pliskova did not manage to put any of Williams’ serves in play on those key points.

Soon after that, Williams went from trailing 4-2 to not only taking the first set but also leading 4-0 in the second.

By the end, Williams compiled a 13-3 edge in aces, and 35-12 in total winners.

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Serena Williams into U.S. Open quarterfinals for 10th straight time

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NEW YORK — Serena Williams reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her 10th straight appearance, topping Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday.

Williams finished the first set in just 18 minutes and nearly rallied from two breaks down in the second.

“It wasn’t an easy match at all,” she said. “I was just happy to get through it, to be honest.”

Williams next gets former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the last woman to beat her at the U.S. Open, in the semifinals in 2016.

“I know she has a big game, but I have a big game, too,” Pliskova said after her 6-4, 6-4 win over Australian Ash Barty on Sunday. “There is always a chance for me.”

Williams could then face defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the semifinals.

The 36-year-old is trying to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles with her seventh U.S. Open crown. She dropped her first set of the tournament Sunday, two days after routing sister Venus 6-1, 6-2 in the third round.

Williams played Sunday one day after daughter Olympia‘s first birthday. She missed the 2017 U.S. Open due to that pregnancy, which was followed by complications and multiple surgeries.

“I want [Olympia] to sleep in the bed with me every night,” Williams said. “I heard that’s an awful thing to do. We’re already best friends.”

Williams returned to tournament play in February. She returned to Grand Slam tennis at the French Open in May, withdrawing before a fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury.

Then in July, Williams was runner-up at Wimbledon to German Angelique Kerber.

She is ranked No. 26 after missing tournaments for maternity leave. She was bumped up to the No. 17 seed at the U.S. Open.

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U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw