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PARIS -- When Serena Williams found herself on the verge of falling behind 0-3 in the third set against Svetlana Kuznetsova in Tuesday afternoon's quarterfinal match, there was a brief moment when she allowed herself to think the horribly familiar thought that so often passes through the minds of sports fans in Cleveland, Seattle, San Diego and other beleaguered cities:
Uh-oh. Here we go again.
And why not? In the previous nine years, Williams had been to the French Open quarterfinals four times and lost each time, including 2009, when Kuznetsova beat her and went on to win the tournament.
She quickly wiped the negative thought from her mind, though. She is Serena Williams, after all, the world No. 1 and the winner of 15 Grand Slams. She is not the Chicago Cubs.
"The 'No, not again' is just so brief because I can't dwell on that," she said. "I'm in a Grand Slam still. Even though I was down I was still competing, so I couldn't necessarily dwell on the fact that I've lost so many quarterfinal matches here. So that was just a brief, brief, brief, like fleeting thought.
|Serena Williams overcame a very brief moment of doubt on her way to her first French Open semifinal since 2003.|
"And after that it was just, 'Let's just play this match and let's just do the best that I can.' "
The best she can do is somewhat better than the Cleveland Cavaliers can muster.
Williams fought off three break points and finally won the game on the 16th point when she caught Kuznetsova leaning to her right and powered the ball past her left. Williams went on to take five of the next six games to win the match 6-1, 3-6, 6-3."If I could have closed that third game, it might have been a different match," Kuznetsova said.
It certainly started that way, as it appeared Williams would have no more trouble dispensing with Kuznetsova than she had with any of her previous opponents. Williams had lost only 10 games in winning her first four matches to reach the quarters, then beat Kuznetsova 6-1 in the first set in just 28 minutes. Williams is 207-5 when winning the first set at a Slam, but two of those losses have been here.
Kuznetsova has two Slams on her résumé (she won the 2004 U.S. Open as well) and had beaten Williams twice in eight previous meetings. She was hampered by a sore abdominal muscle, though -- "I was serving like a grandmother" -- but said she was in less pain after re-taping herself after the first set. Evidently it helped, because Kuznetsova took a quick 4-0 lead in the second set and eventually won it 6-3.Williams clearly became upset with herself as she missed shots and committed errors. She screamed after points and shook her head. She lowered her head and looked despondent once or twice. But she also looked into the stands at her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
"I think the one way he has helped is whenever I do look up, he's just so calm and so confident," she said. "I think that gives me the fortitude to be more confident and calm as well."
"He's much more level all the time," Fed Cup coach Mary Joe Fernandez said of Mouratoglou. "She wants it so bad and she gets so anxious about winning every single point that he's like, 'OK, it's just one point, let's go to the next one. There is plenty of time.' "
Well, calm is a relative term with Williams. When she finally won, she quickly dropped into a tight crouch and raised her fists, shouting in triumph. She was headed back to the French semifinals for the first time in a decade, with a chance to win the tournament for the first time since 2002 -- which for Browns fans probably doesn't sound like that long a gap, considering she also has 12 other Slam titles since.
"Today I was so determined to get through that, and I really, really, really, really wanted it more than I think anyone. So I think that kind of helped," she said. "I was really just fighting. Giving it everything I have. ... You know, I just got tired of losing in the quarters. It's enough."
If only the Mariners really, really, really, really had that mindset.
Williams has won 29 consecutive matches this year and is 21-0 on clay. Her semifinals opponent is Sara Errani, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday. Williams is 5-0 against Errani.
"It's for sure very difficult because she's very strong," Errani said. "Physically, she's an incredible athlete, so it's not easy to play against her for this because she has a lot of power. So it will be tough, but maybe on clay it is a bit better than the other surface. But very tough."
Said Kuznetsova: "It will be big surprise if somebody can beat her here."
Asked who she would like to see play in the final, Williams replied: "It doesn't matter. I hope to be there, so I would like to see me there."