Number Of US Open Semifinalists Shivering Over Serena? Zero

NEW YORK -- Ekaterina Makarova is not afraid of Serena Williams.

Of course, Makarova is not going to say that in so many words. She is not the type. As she says, she prefers to be "in the shade." But the truth is, she can beat Serena and has done it before. So has another US Open semifinalist, Caroline Wozniacki.

As Williams tries to gain back the level of domination she enjoyed last year, the intimidation is a little harder to come by.

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Serena Williams has learned the hard way this year that opponents don't just roll over when they see her on the other side of the net.

And no one knows this better than Serena.

"Especially for me this year, you never know what can happen," she said after overcoming a slow start in her quarterfinal to defeat Flavia Pennetta Wednesday night. "I take everything very seriously as it comes."

After fourth-, second- and third-round exits at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year, respectively, Williams is right to take nothing for granted.

On her side is history. Williams, 32, has an epic 17 career Grand Slam titles, including five US Open wins and is the two-time defending champion, while only one other semifinalist -- Wozniacki -- has ever even been in a Grand Slam final (losing in 2009 at the US Open).

Makarova and Wozniacki's opponent, Peng Shuai, are both making their Grand Slam semifinal debuts. And Peng is unseeded, just the 14th unseeded woman to advance to a Grand Slam semifinal since 2001 Wimbledon, which was the first Slam with 32 seeds.

But there are no babies in this final four.

Wozniacki is the youngest at 24 but is a seasoned vet who held the No. 1 ranking for 67 weeks from 2010-12. Makarova, 26, is ranked a career-high 18th, has won a Grand Slam title in doubles and, as an added fun fact, is the only player to never hold the No. 1 ranking and defeat both Venus Williams (2014 Australian Open) and Serena (2012 Australian Open) in a Slam.

Peng is 28 and, like Makarova and Williams, has yet to drop a set here. She has wins over No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 14 Lucie Safarova.

There is a definite doubles flavors to the singles semifinals with three of the best doubles players in the world. In addition to Makarova, who is into the finals here with partner Elena Vesnina, Williams has won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles with sister Venus, and Peng is the No. 3-ranked doubles player in the world.

"To be honest, doubles helps me in my singles game," Serena Williams said. "If it comes to a point where I don't feel good, then I probably wouldn't play, but it really helps me make better returns, know what to do better."

In Makarova, Williams also meets a kindred spirit, of sorts.

"I understand Makarova, especially when I was coming back," Williams said of her injury-forced time off from the game over 2010-11. "It was like I was definitely more low-profile. I called myself a dangerous floater. It's fun almost because no one expects anything from you and you have no pressure and you can just play so well. ...

"But she's beaten so many top-10 players, she's definitely not low-profile for us. Once we step on that court, we just know that she's a player you cannot take lightly."

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In addition to her spotless run at the US Open, Ekaterina Makarova also can call upon her memory of her 2012 Australian Open if she needs reason to believe she can beat Serena Williams.

Makarova's 6-2, 6-3 victory over Williams in Melbourne in 2012 came with Williams nursing a sore left ankle as she committed seven double faults -- including four in one game -- 37 unforced errors and a first-serve percentage just above 50 percent.

The last stat prompted Williams to crack, "Maybe I should have started serving lefty."

The loss prompted ESPN analyst Chris Evert to say, "It was shocking. I've never seen her play so poorly."

Makarova, who happens to be a lefty, is a better player now. Never an overpowering server (her fastest serve here was in the first round at 108 mph, compared to Williams' 122 in the quarterfinals), she has superb placement and the all-court player is equally efficient on both sides of her groundstrokes.

As an added confidence builder, it was Makarova and Vesnina who bounced Serena and Venus from doubles here with a straight-set win in the quarterfinals.

"Well, she's a great and tough player, yeah?" Makarova said of Williams. "But once I beat her already, so I have a great memory. I have a great feeling of that match."

Williams remembers as well.

"[Makarova] doesn't care who she plays, she gives 100 percent," she said. "Those types of players are often difficult to play because it makes them better. She moves well. She has that serve that you never know where it's going to go. She's has a great backhand and she's improved her forehand.

"It's going to be interesting for me to do the best that I can, because she has a lot of momentum going into this match as well."

If Williams makes it past Makarova, she is favored to meet perhaps her best friend on tour next to her sister in Wozniacki, who has something to prove to those who questioned her legitimacy as a No. 1 player without a major title.

"I have proven people wrong so many times," she said. "I was told when I was younger there is no chance I will make the top 100, top 50, top 30. Every time I have proven them wrong. It's kind of nice."

For Peng, born with a heart defect that was corrected in surgery at age 12 but sidelined her tennis for a year, there is something to prove as well.

"I think everybody [wants] to do their best in the Grand Slam and then want to try to [see] ... how far they can [go]. So now I am in the semis, I [am going to] keep dreaming."

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