Serena Williams’ serve was broken for the first time at this year’s US Open.
Twice, in fact. She dropped a set for the first time in the tournament, too, pushed to the brink by Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.
In a match filled with fantastic shotmaking and enthralling exchanges, neither player budged until Williams righted herself in the third set to emerge with a 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory over Halep to get back to the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows.
The No. 5 seed Halep was the first seeded player Williams faced in the draw.
“I’m glad I got tested,” Williams said.
“Her level really picked up in the second, but I had some opportunities that I didn’t take.”
Halep staved off all 12 break points held by Williams in the second set and forced a third.
“I wasn’t very happy about that, but I tried not to let that get me down,” Williams said about all the chances she let slip away.
“I tried to stay positive and I knew that if I did, I could just stay in the match.”
Right at the start of the third set, Halep held two break points at 15-40, but Williams came through to lead 1-0.
Otherwise, as Halep said, the story of the match would have been different.
Instead, Williams converted the only break chance she would get – or need – in the deciding set to go ahead 3-1, and was on her way.
She finished with 18 aces, a 50-20 edge in total winners, and won the point on 26 of her 32 trips to the net.
Not bad for someone who entered tournament with questions about a sore right shoulder that began bothering her after she won Wimbledon in July.
She is bidding for her seventh title at Flushing Meadows and 23rd overall at a major tournament – both would be records for the Open era, which dates to 1968.
A year ago in the semi-finals, Williams’ attempt to finish off a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a stunning loss to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy.
Her next opponent will be 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who beat the 34-year-old American’s older sister, Venus, in the fourth round, then eliminated 18-year-old Ana Konjuh of Croatia 6-2 6-2 to reach the first major semi-final of her career.
In the other semi-final, second seed Angelique Kerber plays two-time US Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki.
Kerber has a chance to end Williams’ record-tying string of 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.
Wozniacki eased into the final four with a ruthless 6-0 6-2 win over wounded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.
Vinci’s game fell apart after losing the opening set on a foot fault, allowing Kerber to take last nine games, winning 7-5 6-0.