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Eleven years later, Serena eyes a second French crown

June 4, 2013 02:18 PM
Serena Williams exults after her three-set victory over former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on Tuesday. With the win, Serena moves into the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2004.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

Paris – When Serena Williams won the 2002 French Open, it started the most impressive run of her career. She went on to win the next three majors, and after she held up the trophy at the 2004 Australian Open, the term "Serena Slam" (four consecutive Grand Slam titles in a non-calendar year) was coined.
Williams has been unable to achieve that feat again, but she is closing in on her second title as a heavy favorite in Paris. And while she is not as fast as she was 11 years ago, she’s a substantially better all-around player than she was then: smarter and with a heck of lot more variety.
She is also just as resourceful and just as driven – traits that showed Tuesday, when she avenged a painful loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 2009 Roland Garros quarterfinals with a gutsy 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over the Russian. With the victory, Williams extended her career-best winning streak to 29 consecutive matches, but perhaps more importantly, she has reached the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2004.
"I just got tired of losing in the quarters," she said. "It's enough." 
Williams contested a brilliant first set, but from early on it was evident this match would not be easy. Kuznetsova, who won her first Grand Slam title at the 2004 US Open and then followed it up with a brilliant run in Paris in 2009, is an experienced player who has played Serena tough in the past and who has to weapons to hurt her on clay. She is very fast, has a Spanish-style heavy forehand that she can place anywhere and, like Serena, can also mix it up and take over the net.
So after Williams creamed her in the first set, Kuznetsova charged hard in the second, taking a lot of risks and beginning to control the action from inside the baseline. She did a terrific job of returning the world’s most feared serve, frequently hit behind Serena and found the corners with her ground strokes.
The Russian won the second set and left Serena frustrated, constantly admonishing herself to pick up her level. Kuznetsova got out to a 2-0 lead in the third set but the American hung tough, fighting off three break points in third game to claw back to 1-2. Thoughts of her previous quarterfinal losses to Justine Henin, Jennifer Capriati, Samantha Stosur and Kuznetsova flashed through her mind but then they quickly dissipated. She had a job to do.
"Briefly, but then I didn't have time to dwell on that because it was in the moment, and I couldn't think negative," Serena said. 
In just one game, it was her match to lose again. The world No. 1 began to hit her spots with her serve, pounded Kuznetsova's second serves and found the angles with her ground strokes. She screamed, pumped her first and ran hard at every ball even if it appeared out of her reach.
"She hits hard the ball," Kuznetsova said. "She's unbelievable competitor. She turns on the game when she needs it. She serves good, so, I mean, she's got the game. That's why she is there where she is."
Finally, Serena forced Kuznetsova into an error on the final point and the victory was her. Her frown tuned into a wide smile.
"I really, really, really, really wanted it more than I think anyone, so I think that kind of helped," Serena said afterward. "I just was really just fighting, giving it everything I have."
Williams will face 2012 finalist Sara Errani in the semifinals, a wily player who loves to grind it out on clay courts. She is nowhere near as powerful as Williams but is extremely consistent and is tough out for anyone.
World No.2 Mari Sharapova and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka are still on the other side of the draw, so a second title for Williams in Paris won’t come easy. But she overcame a major hurdle in Kuznetsova in the quarters, and the Russian thinks it will take a huge effort from anyone to stop Serena from winning her 16th Grand Slam title.
"So far as we can see the other clay-court tournaments, it was difficult for girls to face her," Kuznetsova said. "Maria [lost to her] in Madrid, Victoria [lost to her] in Rome [and] she was pretty dominant [against] them. So it's a bit hard. It will be big surprise if somebody can beat her here."
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And for more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 French Open, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page. 


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