The vaunted serve of fast-rising Brit and No. 9 seed Johanna Konta met the legendary service return of No. 2 seed Serena Williams on Wednesday at the Australian Open. The result was a breezy 6-2, 6-3 quarterfinal win for the former No. 1 American.
In the second set Konta held serve from 0-40 down then broke for a 3-1 lead, but it was all the Brit had as she wouldn’t win another game. Williams advanced to her eighth career Australian Open semifinal.
“My first serve wasn’t really great, but I’ve really been working on my second serve. Hasn’t been great all tournament,” Serena said afterwards. “I’ve been kind of relying on my second serve. Also my whole game. I’ve been relying on my groundstrokes, forehand, backhand. My returns have really picked up. All around, I feel like she’s a great all-around player. So I feel like I had to be on it all around today.”
In the semis the younger Williams sister will face someone she hasn’t seen across the net in approximately 19 years — world No. 79-ranked Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The two last met when both were teenagers relatively green on tour in 1998.
Lucic-Baroni in her quarterfinal on Wednesday upset reigning US Open runner-up and No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Lucic-Baroni turned the power tennis-table over on Pliskova, striking 42 winners to Pliskova’s 23. Pliskova in the second set took a medical timeout to treat a blister on the bottom of her foot. Her left leg taped high and low, Lucic-Baroni took an injury timeout at 3-4 in the third set, then won 12 of the last 13 games.
“Losing my serve so many times [is upsetting],” Pliskova said afterwards. “I was up a break in the first, and lost my serve twice, which cannot happen. And in the third as well, I lost twice. So, maybe three times? I don’t know. Yeah, so this cannot happen. I mean, even she was playing really well, hitting the ball really fast, just stepping up to the court and just going full power into my serve. I just cannot lose my serve so many times.”
Lucic-Baroni broke down crying on court after match point.
“I know this means a lot to every player to reach a semifinal, but to me this is overwhelming,” said the 34 year old, who stepped away from the game for years due to her domineering father, then scraped together a comeback with little funding or support. “I will never, ever forget this day. This has truly made my life — everything — okay. Just the fact I was this strong and it was worth fighting for is really incredible.”
Before the final game, on the changeover, Lucic-Baroni pulled rosary beads out of her bag.
“It was really difficult because, like I said, when I took the medical timeout, I wasn’t really sure how I was feeling,” she said. “I felt in that moment only God can help me. And yeah, it was just something I didn’t think about. It was just something that helped me be strong. I didn’t really plan it. I didn’t think about it. It just kind of was a thing I did.”
Williams said she will be wary of her semifinal opponent.
“I think it’s so important not to underestimate anyone,” Williams said. “This has been coming for her for a long time. She’s been wanting to win Grand Slams and to do well. I think it’s so important for me to just stay focused and hopefully play well. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a win. I’m here to win.”
Thursday in Melbourne will see the women’s semifinals (13) Venus Williams vs. CoCo Vandeweghe, and (2) Serena Williams vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
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