Special to USA TODAY
Published 3:13 p.m. UTC Sep 5, 2018
NEW YORK — Initially it looked as if Serena Williams could become Tuesday's second upset victim, but instead of following defending champion Sloane Stephens to the exit she dug down deep to reach the US Open semifinals.
Williams trailed eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 3-1 in the first set, and looked as if she couldn’t find her range while the Czech was in early control. But it all turned around to find Williams still on course for a potential 24th Grand Slam trophy with a 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win.
The match ended in grand style for Williams who hit four winners in a row – two aces, an overhead smash, and another ace – to win the final game.
“I’m here to do my best,” said Williams, who turns 37 later this month. “I don’t have 10 more years, at least I don’t think so. I said that 10 years ago.
“I don’t think I have another 10 years of having opportunities to be able to play and win championships. Every match really means a lot to me.”
The encounter was Williams’ 100th career match at Arthur Ashe stadium – no one else has graced the US Open main venue as often – and she now boasts an 89-11 success rate on the court. Overall, she’s played 105 matches at the US Open with a win-loss record of 94-11.
More: Defending champion Sloane Stephens ousted in US Open quarterfinals
Pliskova is the first top-10 player Williams has beaten since she returned to the tour from maternity leave in March. She previously lost to eighth-ranked Venus Williams in the third round at Indian Wells, 10th-ranked Angelique Kerber in the final at Wimbledon, and sixth-ranked Petra Kvitova in the second-round at Cincinnati.
“That’s a really big step for me. Shocking my first top-10 win,” Williams said. “I really felt like I played well in Cincinnati, even though I lost. I was just on the verge.
“I’m getting those matches now. So now I feel like I’m at a level where I can play and try to compete against these amazing women in the top 10.”
That said, Williams is not assuming just because she’s in the semifinals she’s a shoo-in to win a 24th Grand Slam title, which would bring her even with current Grand Slam title record-holder Margaret Court of Australia.
“I’d been a couple steps away at the last Grand Slam, so I’m definitely not (getting) ahead of myself,” Williams said. “I still know that no matter whether I’m in the semifinals or finals, I have a really long way to go to win that. Again, that proved to be true at Wimbledon.”
Pliskova had three break points for a 4-1 lead in the opening set, but squandered those opportunities. Instead, Williams won eight consecutive games starting from when she held serve in the seventh game of the first set for a 6-4, 4-0 lead.
Overall, Pliskova had 12 break point chances to challenge Williams’ serve, but only capitalized on two in the match.
Williams eventually faltered when serving the fifth game of the second set to enable Pliskova to get on the scoreboard again. But that was the last gift Williams offered as she saved four break points on her serve in the seventh game.
Williams is the only player remaining in the women’s draw that is a Grand Slam champion. She’s won 23 Grand Slam titles in her career, which includes currently sharing an Open-era record of six US Open titles with Chris Evert.
In the semifinals, Williams will face the 19th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who took down Stephens 6-2, 6-3.
The semifinalists from the bottom half of the draw will be decided on Wednesday with 14th-seeded Madison Keys, a finalist here last year, playing 30th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, while 20th-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan takes on unseeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.
The match improved Williams’ record against Pliskova to 2-1, but the Czech won their previous US Open meeting in the 2016 semifinal. In that match, Williams only had one break point against Pliskova.