There were moments when she appeared on the brink of tears and others when she looked as if she was about to pass out, but even a flu-struck Serena Williams was too good for Timea Bacsinszky here in the semi-finals of the French Open.
From a set and a break down, the world No 1 recovered to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 and secure a place in the final against the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova, who beat Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 7-5.
Williams, who has been coughing and spluttering through much of the tournament, appeared to be especially troubled by the heat as the temperature on Court Philippe Chatrier soared to nearly 30C. Between points the 33-year-old American walked painfully slowly around the court and at changeovers she slumped into her chair before burying her face under a pile of ice towels.
“I don’t think I have ever been this sick,” Williams said afterwards. “I can’t believe I won because I got the flu after my third-round match and haven’t been getting better. Hopefully, this is the worst.
“I thought I was going to lose and suddenly I was one set-all and thought: ‘I really don’t feel like playing a third set because I am so tired’. It is a blessing.”
Bacsinszky, who had never previously gone beyond the second round here, took full advantage of Williams’ early difficulties. The 25-year-old Swiss broke midway through the first set, which she took in just 42 minutes, though she needed three set points to complete the job.
When Bacsinszky led 3-2 with a break in the second set a major upset appeared to be on the cards, but Williams dug deep and suddenly found another gear. Bacsinszky did not win another game and must have known it was not to be her day at the start of the decider.
At 30-40 in the first game of the third set the Swiss missed an absurdly easy forehand which would have saved break point and, in the second, Williams came back from 15-40 to hold serve.
When Williams was interviewed on court at the end she appeared barely able to speak. “I’m ill,” she said before cutting short the interview. “I hope I will be better for Saturday.”
Williams, who has twice won the title here, has now recovered to win a match from a set down for the fourth time in this year’s tournament. She has also won her last 10 Grand Slam semi-finals in succession. On Saturday she will be seeking her 20th Grand Slam title, which would put her just two short of Steffi Graf’s Open era record. Williams has played 23 Grand Slam finals and lost only four of them.
Given that Safarova will be playing in her first Grand Slam final and has lost to Williams in all eight of their previous meetings, the world No 1 will be the hottest of favourites, despite her health issues. Safarova, nevertheless, has been in splendid form during this tournament and has yet to drop a set.
The 28-year-old Czech, who will climb into the world’s top 10 for the first time next week, became the first woman from her country to reach the final here for 34 years. Ivanovic, the 2008 champion, took command in the early stages, but from 5-2 up lost five games in a row to hand Safarova the opening set.
Safarova’s nerves seemed to get the better of her when she served for the match at 5-4 as three double-faults helped Ivanovic to break. The Serb, watched by her boyfriend, the Bayern Munich footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger, could not take advantage. She was broken again and this time Safarova served out for the match. “It’s a dream come true and I still cannot believe it,” she said afterwards.
The Czech said she had started the match slowly but was pleased with the way she had turned it around. “When I realised that I could be in the final I did get a bit tense,” she said. “In the game at 5-4 I was really over-thinking and I couldn’t concentrate.”
Safarova, who reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon last summer, is aiming to become the first Czech player to win here since Hana Mandlikova in 1981. Her fellow countrywoman, Petra Kvitova, is the current Wimbledon champion.Reuse content