Ill Wil­liams comes back again at French Open to reach fi­nal


At changeovers in her French Open semi­fi­nal, an ill Serena Wil­liams walked ever so slowly to the side­line, where even low­er­ing her­self to sit seemed dif­fi­cult.

With the tem­per­a­ture near­ing 85 de­grees (30 Cel­sius), she pressed white tow­els filled with ice against her fore­head and neck and guz­zled wa­ter.

Early on, her play was as poor as her health. She failed to chase balls she nor­mally would. As telling as any­thing: On those oc­ca­sions when she did win points, Wil­liams mostly re­frained from her familiar fist pumps and yells of “Come on!”

You can never count her out, though, no mat­ter the cir­cum­stances. Down a set and a break Thurs­day, and clearly not her­self, Wil­liams sum­moned the re­solve to reach the fi­nal by beat­ing 23rd­seeded Timea Bac­sin­szky of Switzer­land 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Af­ter get­ting bro­ken to fall be­hind 3- 2 in the sec­ond set, Wil­liams claimed the fi­nal 10 games. She had a 12- 2 edge in win­ners in the fi­nal set.

“Stunning,” said Wil­liams’ coach, Pa­trick Mouratoglou. “This is the dif­fer­ence be­tween cham­pi­ons and ev­ery­one else. There is no log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion.”

Mouratoglou said the No. 1-ranked Wil­liams has been deal­ing for sev­eral days with the flu, in­clud­ing a fever and dif­fi­culty breath­ing.

Wil­liams skipped her news con­fer­ence — some­thing sis­ter Venus did af­ter los­ing last week, drawing a US$3,000 fine — and is­sued a state­ment read­ing: “I have been feel­ing un­well for a few days, and ... I needed to see the tour­na­ment doc­tor.”

Now one victory from her third French Open cham­pi­onship and 20th ma­jor ti­tle in all, Wil­liams faces 13th-seeded Lu­cie Sa­farova of the Czech Repub­lic on Satur­day.

“I tried ev­ery­thing. I thought if I lose, I will lose with a fight,” Wil­liams told crowd in French. “I tried, I tried. I found the en­ergy. I don’t know where, but I found it. And I won. I hope that on Satur­day, I hope ...”

Cut­ting her­self off, she stepped away from the mi­cro­phone, bent over and be­gan cough­ing. She of­fered a quick wave, col­lected her things and left. Off the court, she got a hug from Mouratoglou, who helped her down stairs to­ward the locker room.

“I was wor­ried,” said Wil­liams’ mother, Oracene Price. “But I knew if she could get through the sec­ond set, some­how maybe the adren­a­line and God would help her get through the match.”

Next comes Wil­liams’ 24th Grand Slam fi­nal, and Sa­farova’s first. In her state­ment, Wil­liams called her­self “determined to be 100 per­cent ready.”

The left-handed Sa­farova elim­i­nated de­fend­ing cham­pion Maria Shara­pova in the fourth round and 2008 cham­pion Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 7-5 on Thurs­day.

Wil­liams won her semi­fi­nal de­spite drop­ping the first set for the fourth time in six matches. She’d never fash­ioned that many come­backs dur­ing one ma­jor tour­na­ment.

When this one was over, fi­nally over, Wil­liams leaned for­ward and rested her head on her hands atop the han­dle of her up­side-down racket.

Bac­sin­szky — who said she no­ticed Wil­liams “was tak­ing some time be­tween points” but tried to fo­cus on her­self — was asked how her own mis­takes con­trib­uted to the re­sult.

“We say in French: ‘If we could put Paris in a bot­tle.’ Like, I could say, ‘If, if, if. If my fore­hand was in. If I would maybe choose an­other tac­tic,’” Bac­sin­szky said.

Bac­sin­szky wiped away tears as she left the court, her mag­i­cal run abruptly done. She never had been past the sec­ond round in Paris — or the third round at any ma­jor.

Two years ago, she took a hia­tus from ten­nis to work at restau­rants with an eye to­ward pur­su­ing a de­gree in ho­tel man­age­ment. Last year, she was ranked 112th and went through qual­i­fy­ing at the French Open.

This year, equipped with a danger­ous back­hand and an affin­ity for drop shots, Bac­sin­szky beat twotime Wim­ble­don cham­pion Petra Kvi­tova in the fourth round and lost a tour­na­ment-low 33 games en­ter­ing Thurs­day. She was 7-0 in her French Open ca­reer when tak­ing the first set.

Ah, but none of those matches came against Wil­liams.

When the go­ing gets tough­est, no one is bet­ter than Wil­liams at the mo­ment — and, per­haps, in the his­tory of the game. In 2015, she is 31-1, in­clud­ing 11-0 in three-set­ters.

If she de­feats Sa­farova, the 33-year-old Amer­i­can would add to her 2002 and 2013 French Open ti­tles and col­lect a third con­sec­u­tive ma­jor cham­pi­onship.

“She never thought about with­draw­ing,” Mouratoglou said. “Even on one leg, she will step on court. She al­ways be­lieves that she can pull through. This is her strength. You can’t take it away from her.”


Serena Wil­liams of the U.S., right, and Timea Bac­sin­szky of Switzer­land pass each other dur­ing their semi­fi­nal match of the French Open ten­nis tour­na­ment at the Roland Gar­ros sta­dium, in Paris on Thurs­day, June 4.

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