Williams firms as French title favourite

Back to her efficient best and with her chief challengers long gone, Serena Williams is the overwhelming favourite to land a 20th grand slam crown at the French Open on Saturday.

But the all-conquering world No.1 is taking nothing for granted as she prepares to face Swiss surprise packet Timea Bacsinszky in Thursday’s semi-finals.

After chastening herself as borderline “unprofessional” for dropping the opening set in her previous three matches, Williams blasted past Italy’s former finalist and 17th seed Sara Errani 6-1 6-3 in 65 minutes on Wednesday.

But not even a perfect two-from-two record over Bacsinszky, including a straight-sets quarter-final victory in Indian Wells this year, has Williams feeling overly comfortable.

“She’s a good player,” the top seed said.

“I think most of all about her is she’s a major fighter. You can have match point, be up a set and she’s not going to give up.”

After tumbling out of the world’s top 500 and even taking an apprenticeship in a Swiss hotel in 2013, Bacsinszky has fought back to win two titles already this season.

And after ousting unseeded Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4 7-5 in Wednesday’s other quarter-final, the 25-year-old is now the first Swiss woman to reach the last four in Paris since the great Martina Hingis in 2001.

“She’s had a really good year. It’s not going to be an easy match at all for me,” Williams said.

“I need to come out strong again. Most of all I need to relax.

“If I win, great. If I lose, I want to be able to do the best that I can do. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.”

While Williams claims to be “surprised” to be still in the tournament after three-set escape acts in the second, third and fourth rounds, Bacsinszky admits her progression to the semi-finals of a slam for the first time is “extraordinary”.

“You don’t get to be playing a semi-final of a grand slam every day,” said Bacsinszky.

With second-seeded titleholder Maria Sharapova and fourth-seeded Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova joining last year’s runner-up Simona Halep on the Roland Garros scrap heap, only Bacsinszky and the winner of Thursday’s first semi-final between Ana Ivanovic and Lucie Safarova stand between Williams and more grand slam glory.

Seventh-seeded Ivanovic will be contesting her first grand slam semi-final since hoisting the trophy in Paris in 2008.

“It’s been a long road and hard work,” said Ivanovic, who reached No.1 in the world the same year after also making the French Open final in 2007 and the Australian Open decider in 2008.

“Obviously you know seven years ago it was a completely different experience. I was a lot younger and I sort of didn’t have the experience.

“I just was so excited and I felt like I can achieve anything.

“At that point, I had so many victories and so many good results. Maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now.”

Ivanovic will not be taking her opponent lightly, though, with left-hander Safarova, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, yet to drop a set all tournament and removing Sharapova in the fourth round.

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