- Serena Williams is through to the US Open semi-final with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory
- Tsvetana Pironkova forced Williams to go distance after taking the first set
- The Bulgarian broke Williams in second but fought back to level the match up
- The American broke in the first game of the third to put her in control of the tie
Serena Williams is through to the last four of the US Open, but if she has to dig any deeper she might find herself halfway to Australia.
For the third successive match she needed to recover from a set down, this time against the sorcery of the event’s most unlikely quarter finalist, Tsvetana Pironkova.
Courtside microphones in the ghostly Arthur Ashe Stadium could pick up her frantic breathing between points before she came through 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 12 minutes.
She was left awaiting the winner of the night match, Victoria Azarenka and Elise Mertens, and will play while enjoying the benefit of a longer rest than her opponent.
Williams may need every minute of it, after taking an hour to work out the wonderfully expansive game of the unranked Bulgarian, one of the three parents in the last-eight stage of the women’s singles.
The American proved to be Mother Superior, but could only admire the resourcesfulness of unranked Pironkova, playing her first tournament in more than three years.
‘It just showed me how tough mums are, if you can birth a baby you can do anything,’ said Williams. ‘You play, you go home, and you are still changing diapers. She played unbelievable, I could barely win a match when I came back.
‘I was feeling it a bit in my legs. At the beginning I felt a bit fatigued. I never give up but I need to find out how to start faster.’
Two matches stand between her and a 24th Grand Slam title, which would be the first since she gave birth in 2017.
Only her serve and will to win kept her in it, and she was fortunate that the Bulgarian – whose game features a squash-style sliced forehand and deadly backhand – abruptly dropped her level in the seventh game of the second set.
Williams claimed the break point with a 25-shot rally, the longest of the match. She then served it out with three aces, the sound of her heaving chest easily audible in the deserted arena.
You keep expecting these matches to catch up with her at the age of nearly 39 but her mind is the strongest weapon of all. The Bulgarian was spent towards the end, and will now travel back to Bulgaria to see her two-year-old son.
Not having the luxury of paying for a private house with entourage in New York, she had not seen him in nearly three weeks.
They were being followed on court by the Moscow derby quarter-final between Andrey Rublev and last year’s beaten finalist, Daniil Medvedev. The winner would face whoever emerges from the last match, featuring Australia’s Alex de Minaur and Dominic Thiem.
Having been ushered through to the last eight thanks to Novak Djokovic’s flash of temper, Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta will get an unlikely shot at making a Grand Slam final when he takes on No 7 seed Alex Zverev in Friday’s semi-final.
Overnight the 29-year-old world number 27, who conserved energy in his progression against Djokovic, suppressed the flashy young talent of Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 in their last-eight match.