French Open Round-up: Serena Williams made to work hard for a semi-final berth
Dutch tennis also had its big day as Kiki Bertens made the semi-finals.
A Grand Slam quarter-final against the World No. 60 player ideally should be a cakewalk for the 21-time Major winner Serena Williams. But 21-year-old Yulia Putintseva made sure that the defending champion had to work extra hard for the coveted place in the last-four.
The young Kazakh was relentless, repeatedly forcing Serena into numerous errors. The top seed, who committed as many as 43 unforced errors, was even five points away from defeat. But as she had done many times in the past, Serena and her unwavering willpower found out a way to grind out a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
A one-time prolific junior Putintseva had never been into a Slam quarter-final before. Instead of getting intimidated by the occasion, the Kazakh showed she was well and truly prepared for the biggest moment of her career.
Her variety and ability to use every inch of the court threw Serena off as she unbelievably lost three games in a row to go a set and a break down and trail 5-7, 0-1. But that was the wake-up call she needed.
The American, as expected, upped the intensity and pace on her returns and quickly surged to a 4-1 lead. But Putintseva was not done yet. She clawed her way back to level at 4-4 and even had a couple of break points for a 5-4 lead.
Under pressure as the Kazakh double-faulted on set point at 4-5, a decider was set which Serena thoroughly dominated for a place in her fifth semi-final in Paris.
Big day for Dutch tennis
Serena will next face a surprise semi-finalist – the 58th ranked Kiki Bertens, who had never been past the fourth round of a Major before.
The 24-year-old upset the eighth seed and 2015 semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2 to become the first Dutchwoman in the Roland Garros semi-finals since Marijke Schaar in 1971. Bertens is now on a 12-match winning streak after coming to Roland Garros on the back of winning the Nuremberg title as a qualifier.
A roller-coaster first set saw the two women trading seven breaks of serve. Serving at 5-6, the eighth seed went three set points down which one of which Bertens was quick to convert. With the first set in the pocket, the unseeded Dutchwoman simply soared in confidence, breaking Bacsinszky thrice in the second set to take the win.
Djokovic to face Thiem in semi-finals
Top seed Novak Djokovic booked his place in the semi-finals with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win over the seventh seed Tomas Berdych but he had a scare of a different kind. During the third set, the Serb flung his racquet in frustration which hit the baseline hoardings and narrowly avoided touching any line umpire.
It would have been a straightaway default if the racquet had hurt anyone.
During the match, it was mostly plain sailing for the Serb who converted six of his eight break point opportunities to reach the 30th Major semi-final of his illustrious career.
Thiem breaks new ground
Rising talent Dominic Thiem had been touted as the next big thing of men’s tennis for a couple of years now. The 22-year-old Austrian lived up to those lofty expectations as he made his maiden Grand Slam semi-final with a comeback 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-1 win over the 12th seed David Goffin.
With this, the youngster, who has won three titles this year, will break into the top 10 when the new rankings are released. He is just the third Austrian to make the last-four at any Slam, joining compatriots Thomas Muster and Jurgen Melzer.