It was anything but routine, but Serena Williams is one step closer to a record-equaling 22nd grand slam title after coming from behind to beat Yulia Putintseva in the French Open quarter-finals.
Down a set and a break to her Kazakhstan opponent – who was twice just a point from serving for the biggest victory of her career – Williams recovered to win 5-7 6-4 6-1 on Thursday.
She will face another unseeded opponent in 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in the semi-finals.
“I kept missing. Just misfiring. Honestly, at one point I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the defending champion said.
“I guess I was not the most positive mentally, but obviously I didn’t want to stop.”
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to win that in the second set.”
There is no time for Williams to rest ahead of her meeting with Bertens on Friday, who like Putintseva, has a tendency to extend points.
If Williams gets to Saturday’s final, it will be her fourth consecutive day of play.
The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, already will reach that total – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – when he meets No.13 Dominic Thiem in their semi-final.
Williams got so desperate at one point of her quarter-final escape act that she shifted her racket to her left hand – and whiffed.
At the end of the first set, Williams had made 24 unforced errors to Putintseva’s two, which seems like it might be a typo but isn’t.
Still, Williams reached her 31st major semi-final.
Bertens became the first Dutch woman to get that far at a slam since 1977, beating Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-2.
“Mentally I feel pretty good. But physically, yeah, it was tough today out there,” Bertens said, mentioning a calf problem.
Since Williams earned her fourth consecutive major championship at Wimbledon a year ago for No.21 overall, she has been beaten in the semi-finals of the US Open by Roberta Vinci and in the final of the Australian Open by Angelique Kerber.
The turning point in the match came at 4-all in the second set, when Putintseva held two break points.
Convert either, and she’d be ahead 5-4 and serve for the match.
Williams wound up holding with a drop volley winner, before breaking to take the set.
“I definitely knew I needed to do something different if I was going to stay in the tournament,” Williams said.
“I always try to have a Plan B and C and go from there.”