Wimbledon 2019: Serena Williams survives scare to put away Alison Riske in gruelling match to reach semi-finals

The seven-time champion triumphed 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in just over two hours on Centre Court

Jack Rathborn
Wimbledon
Tuesday 09 July 2019 16:31
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Arms outstretched in jubilation deep in the third set to earn a crucial break point epitomised the relief for Serena Williams after she survived a gruelling match against Alison Riske to advance to the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

Williams was pushed to her limits, but kept her cool to edge her compatriot 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in just over two hours.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion has been forced to endure the peculiar position entering today, operating in the shadows of teen sensation Coco Gauff. But after the thrilling 15-year-old bowed out against Simona Halep on Monday, Williams was handed an opportunity to recapture the limelight. In doing so, the 37-year-old again complimented her power game with exquisite timing and impossible angles to charm Centre Court and confirm her royal status in this corner of London – but only after an almighty battle.

Having leaned on hard hitting in her 19th appearance at SW19, Williams has been efficient in advancing to this stage in a brisk five hours, 10 minutes — the least of the final eight women. Riske in contrast has been forced to navigate a gruelling nine hours and five minutes, the most of all the quarter-finalists. Nonetheless she was willing to trade with the seven-time champion from the outset.

Perhaps aware of Serena’s impeccable 84-2 Wimbledon record after taking the opening set, Riske rolled the dice by hitting on the move to catch Williams’ respect and knock her briefly off balance to steal an early break at 2-1.​

Williams powered back though, revelling in the lengthy rallies and time to measure some demoralising winners. Despite beginning to tee off and reaching parity at three games apiece, Riske continued to demonstrate her fearless approach. A crushing backhand winner snatched an immediate break back that forced a frown from Williams out of respect.

Williams hits on the run vs Riske

The power game was beginning to suit Williams though, who then found her groove and rattled off three straight games to secure the opening set, putting the world No 55 in a familiar position: the deficit extended her run of conceding a set in each round to this point.

Riske’s mentality was not shaken though, having survived being down a break in the deciding set against Donna Vekic and Belinda Bencic this fortnight already. But a punishing forehand winner down the line to open up the second set appeared to galvanise the 10-time finalist.

Riske used an aggressive strategy early against Williams

Williams continued to dazzle and pulled out a mesmerising cross-court, backhand winner on one knee, sparking her loudest celebration of the match. And yet, Riske, by merely surviving on serve made Williams blink first with the finishing line in sight.

Drawing on her incredible spirit at four games apiece, she stepped away from the brink once again, sensing her moment. After grinding to earn a precious break point, she displayed finesse at the net, softly putting away the ball to bring a roar from Centre Court.

In a flash the match had swung towards Riske, who nudged ahead in the third thanks to a forehand drive volley. In familiar circumstances to the first set though, neither player was able to grab a significant advantage, with Williams breaking back and then rediscovering her service game with a couple of ferocious swipes as the lead swung once more. Cries of ‘Ali’ appeared to inspire Riske as she summoned the last fight in her, eventually grinding Williams down with her trusty backhand down the line to draw level at 3-3.

Williams delivers a forehand

Drawing on all her experience as a colossal upset came into sight, Williams allowed her racket to lean on her leg, rearranging her hair into the “business bun”. With the game on a knife edge, Williams began to lure Riske into the net and it proved decisive at 4-3, bringing up break point after dispatching an easy ball, with Riske crumbling on the next point to double fault.

A routine hold followed, contradicting the pulsating match that went before and providing overdue respite for the queen of Wimbledon, who now awaits the winner of Johanna Konta vs Barbora Strycova.

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