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Serena survives Kuznetsova scare

ESPN staff
June 4, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Serena Williams struggled with her forehand as Svetlana Kuznetsova forced her way back into the match © AP
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Serena Williams claimed her place in the French Open semi-finals for the first time in a decade after a stern examination from Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The world No. 1 notched up her 29th consecutive victory of the season, but not before the Russian bounced back from a tame first-set performance to push Williams all the way en route to a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win.

With winds swirling around Court Suzanne Lenglen from the outset, Williams escaped from her opening service game after saving break point, but quickly found her rhythm on the return. She broke Kuznetsova to love in the next game, and although serving continued to prove tricky in the blustery conditions, Williams was quickly 3-0 to the good against the former French Open champion.

Kuznetsova got herself on the scoreboard, but it was a brief stay of execution; with the wind beginning to ease Williams stepped up a gear, keeping the Russian on the run to neutralise her flat ground strokes and open up the court as she broke again for a 5-1 lead. A regulation hold finished off the first set after just 28 minutes.

Williams hadn't reached the final four at Roland Garros since her semi-final defeat by Justine Henin in 2003, which may go some way to explaining her nervy start to the second set. With the American visibly riled by a string of unforced errors, Kuznetsova fashioned a break to open up a 2-0 lead - and broke again to move 4-0 clear as Williams lost faith in her timing.

The top seed hit back with a break of her own to stop the rot, only to be broken for the third successive game as Kuznetsova moved closer to levelling the match. The Russian could not finish the job at the first time of asking as Williams broke again, and applied more pressure by holding to make it 5-3.

Svetlana Kuznetsova did all she could to topple Serena Williams © AP
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Kuznetsova wobbled once more on serve but would not be denied a second time. Williams battled to keep the set alive and had four break points to get back on serve, but a second-serve ace helped the Russian survive and reach set point, which she took when Williams netted a backhand after closing down a drop-shot. It was a fitting end to a set in which Williams claimed just two of her 10 break points; in contrast, Kuznetsova converted three out of three.

A drama became a crisis for the world No. 1 at the start of the third as Kuznetsova again immediately moved a break ahead as the wind began to pick up around Lenglen. The suddenly supercharged Russian was unrecognisable from the woman who started the match - as was Serena, whose forehand had betrayed her at just the wrong time.

Already trailing 2-0, Williams was on the rack once more as Kuznetsova found herself on the verge of a two-break lead in the final set. But the 15-time grand slam champion dug deep to cling on, roaring as a stunning cross-court backhand winner found its mark. Kuznetsova kept probing, pinning Williams back with a series of deep forehands, but the 2002 champion held on, leaving the Russian face-down in the dirt with a wrong-footing forehand to clinch what proved to be a pivotal game.

With the hold came a seismic shift in momentum. Williams, so tentative for the preceding half-hour, began throwing herself into her shots, breaking Kuznetsova to level the score at 2-2, and hit the front after weather a few more nervous moments in her next service game. With Williams' confidence growing by the point Kuznetsova's defences crumbled, and she shipped another break to leave Williams firmly in charge once more.

The Russian did well to force the top seed to serve for her place in the final four to hold for 5-3, but it only served to delay the inevitable. Serena romped through her final service game, closing out the match with a trademark drive volley before throwing her arms into the air in relief as much as celebration.

In the day's other quarter-final, last year's beaten finalist Sara Errani claimed her first win against a player ranked in the world's top five with a scrappy 6-4 7-6(6) win over No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

In a match where the second set alone featured eight breaks of serve, last year's beaten finalist junk-balled her way past the Pole, chipping and lobbing Radwanska to distraction to set up a semi-final showdown with Williams.

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