Ailing Serena Williams Faces Safarova in French Open Final

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Serena Williams
Serena Williams returns a shot during her match against Bacsinszky at the French Open in Paris. Photographer: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Serena Williams -- suffering with flu -- looked ready to give up before coming back to beat Timea Bacsinszky at the French Open and move to her 24th major final.

Williams, clutching an ice towel during changeovers and making 30 unforced errors, overcame the Swiss No. 23 seed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 to reach the championship match, where she’ll play Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

While Williams may have looked ill, she won 10 games in a row to finish the match.

“I don’t know how I did it,” the American said in a courtside interview. “I didn’t have any energy,” she added, before she had a coughing fit. The on-court interviewer allowed her to go, telling the crowd Williams had the flu.

Williams skipped a postmatch news conference to get medical attention.

“I have been feeling unwell for a few days and, after this tough match against Timea, I needed to see the tournament doctor,” she said in a statement released by the French Open. “I am determined to be 100 percent ready for the final against Lucie on Saturday.”

Hotel Work

Bacsinszky, who had quit tennis temporarily in 2013 and worked in hotels and restaurants, said she’d been trying to focus on her own game.

“I was not looking at how my opponent was doing,” the Swiss, who played in her first major semifinal, said in a news conference. “I saw that she was taking some time in between points. She may have struggled, but at the end, she was the winner of the match.”

Williams, 33, has struggled most of the past week in Paris. In an interview two days ago, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said she’d been “a bit sick,” but that it didn’t explain her struggles at Roland Garros this year. According to the Frenchman, Williams has yet to find “the right mindset” to compete at the highest level.

She trailed by a set and a break in the third round against former top-ranked Victoria Azarenka after an error-strewn performance against Anna-Lena Friedsam, a German ranked 104 spots below her, in the second round. In the last 16, she was a game away from defeat against fellow American Sloane Stephens. Her level picked up in the quarterfinals, as she beat Italy’s Sara Errani in straight sets.

Another Off Day

The top-seeded Williams had another off-day on Thursday, getting broken twice and landing only 57 percent of her first serves in.

Williams was outplayed in the first set, as Bacsinszky stayed with her in most rallies and often came out on top. Serving for the opening set at 5-4, Bacsinszky hit an ace to go up 30-0. A sloppy Williams forehand earned her two set points. She missed the first one on an error, while Williams saved the second with a winner. After saving a break point, Bacsinszky set up another set point, which she won on a forehand wide.

Williams looked increasingly low on energy in the second set as the crowd grew silent. At 1-1, Williams mistimed a smash as she ran toward the net and then braked hard on the clay with both feet to readjust her court position. In the end, Bacsinszky won the point with a passing shot.

With the Swiss up a break and leading 3-2, the match changed. Williams took the final 10 games to win the match on a backhand error.

“I fought until the last point,” Bacsinszky said. “I’m taking many positives away from this match.”

Safarova Advances

Earlier in the day, Safarova rallied back from 5-2 down in the opening set to beat former champion Ana Ivanovic and move to her first French Open final.

The 13th-seeded Czech beat the former top-ranked Serbian, 7-5, 7-5 on the hottest day so far in Paris.

“It’s a dream come true,” Safarova said in a courtside interview, after she’d fallen flat on her back on the clay following her victory. “I started today a little slowly but tried to keep up the level and tried to stay really aggressive.”

Safarova struck 36 winners and made 31 unforced errors. She broke her opponent’s serve four times.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Safarova double faulted three times, including once on match point. Ivanovic was unable to take advantage, getting broken in the next game with a wayward forehand. Once again serving for the match at 6-5, Safarova lost the first match point as Ivanovic ripped a winner, only for her opponent to take the third match point with a forehand.

‘Very Aggressive’

“I really started well, like every other match, I really had a good plan coming into the match, but I just felt like I ran a little bit out of gas,” Ivanovic said in a news conference. “I started dropping short and she played really, really well. She was very aggressive.”

Safarova, who had knocked defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia out of the fourth round, has never beaten Williams in eight matches. The two women have never met at a major.

Ivanovic rose to No. 1 in the world after she won the 2008 title. Today had been her first major semifinal since then.

“To be on that level I need a little bit better footwork, and I kind of was lacking that,” she said. “Also explosivity in my serve. But I’m really proud of what I achieved these two weeks.”

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