Williams needed both of these points to reach the scale of a set and a break after 45 minutes of her quarterfinal against Tsivana Pironkova on Wednesday at Cloudy Arthur Ash Stadium.
He needed both of these points over the course of five games, changing the match – with his 20 aces – to end on the right side 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 after two more consecutive 11 scores. Hours to make it to the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows for the 4th appearance.
Two more wins for Williams would allow him to claim a record 24th Grand Slam singles title.
If Pironkova had organized, what a great crisis it would have been? Not only has she not landed in Flushing Meadows, but she also does not appear in the WTA rankings – this was her first tournament of any kind in more than three years as she left the tour to start a family.
Indeed, when the players stepped on the court, the stadium’s announcers – declaring for whom, in fact, something of a mystery – referred to Pironkova, a 32-year-old from Bulgaria, as “Alexander’s mother” and Williams then as “Olympia’s mother” during the Williams introduction.
The 39-year-old American star, who won in less than three weeks, has won a total of six championships at the US Open and was runner-up four times in 2018 and 2019.
Williams last lost before the semi-finals in New York in 2007, when Justin Henin knocked him out of the quarter-finals.
On Thursday, Williams will face No. 16 Ellis Mertens or the invincible Victoria Azarenka. Their quarterfinal was scheduled for Wednesday night.
This week, in the fourth round, Williams needed a comeback and a maximum number of sets before defeating 15th seed Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3.
In Wednesday’s reversal, the first crucial moment consisted of 24 strokes, the next being a running crosscourt forehand by Williams in the doubles alley wide and a run-way squash forehand by Pironkova in the last, which landed in net, Williams in the second set. A break in and a 5-3 lead.
Williams raised her left fist as her husband shouted from his front row seat; Pironkova placed her hands on her knee, smiled and sat behind the baseline.
The other decisive moment came in the four-deuce opening game of the final set and began with right-hander Williams taking a page from Maria Sharapova’s playbook, providing left-handed serve. After another 15 strokes, Williams hit a forehand passing shot that Pironkova fell into the tape of the net.
Pironkova fell on his back, warming the chest; He left the court so sweaty that a man with a ball was incited to wipe it with a towel. That stretch gave Williams a third break point, which was converted for a 1-0 lead when Pironkova sent a forehand long.
Williams only took the lead after that, with his strokes targeting the match better. His service was particularly good.
Conversely, Pironkova began to have more trouble in the opening digits that he quickly dominated, winning the first half-dozen that lasted 10 or more strokes.