2013 French Open - Day Eight

*With Serena Williams, you never know how a match is gonna start these days, given her 2014 tennis season.  Sometimes she comes out firing, as she capable of, then sometimes she comes out flat.

Tonight in a prime time quarterfinal match up with 11th seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy inside Ashe Stadium, she came out flat.

Serena, vying for her 6th overall US Open title, started the match serving, but she immediately dropped that first service game. Her opponent, realizing how important it is to “get it while the getting is good” against the 17-time Slam champion, held her own service game, then broke Serena a second time to go up 3-0.  It was a promising start for the unanimous underdog.

But, the giant awakened.

The next six games went to Serena, as the packed stadium of 21,793 fans watched her fire off thunderous ground strokes and booming serves, neither of which Pennetta could handle to any significant effect.  She reclaimed the lost games and continued on to decisely close the set out at 6-3.

The second set began with a hold of serve by the Italian – accompanied by two aces and a gutsy war cry, which she was able to follow up by pushing Serena to two break points on the champion’s subsequent service game.

But the serve … oh the serve!

Serena quickly erased the break points with 110+ mph serves and leveled the set 1-all.

Pennetta was deflated, but still in the fight.

After winning the first point of her own service game, the frazzled Italian hit the deck and tumbled from trying to contend with the power of Williams. The fall evoked a friendly “are you ok?” from Serena, but once the no. 1 seed got the green light from her opponent that she wasn’t injured, it was back to the thumping business.  Pennetta, her second consecutive appearance in a US Open quarterfinal, was able to hold that opening service game, but Serena followed that up with a quick hold.

Another exchange of games occurred, bringing the score to 2-all, but the very capable tournament favorite cranked things up another notch to break the Italian’s serve in 5th game to go up 3-2 and held her own serve directly afterwards to go up 4-2.

Williams, on a ferocious campaign to win her 18th Grand Slam title, broke Penetta’s serve again at 4-2, earning the chance to serve it out in just over an hour. Flavia pushed the game to 30-all, but a rally produced an unforced error from Penetta’s forehand and Serena went up 40-30.  Serena’s next serve was too tough for Penetta to handle and the match ended just like that with a scoreline of  6-3, 6-2.

The Italian never really stood a chance, and with this win, Serena improved her record against her to 6-0, in the cool of the New York night with her team, including sister Venus Williams and fashion mogul Anna Wintour, supporting her.  Baller, Kevin Garnett was also spotted in the crowed taking in the night match at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

When Serena Williams plays her game – with passion, focus and determination, there’s no stopping her and she displayed those three elements during the match against Penetta.  She may have double-faulted she and her sister’s doubles match away on Tuesday night (against her next opponent Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia), but no such luck for Penetta on Wednesday; she was firing on all cylinders.

The 2-time defending champion’s most formidable competition, Victoria Azarenka – who she’s had to battle with in the last two US Open finals  that she’s won, was eliminated today by Makarova, who she’ll next play.  And although the Russian has beaten her before at a Slam (Australian Open) her current form makes her the favorite in that match up. If she does make it through, she’ll face either China’s Peng Shuai or her “tour bestie” Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark – who’s taken her to three sets in their last two matches – in the final.

“It feels so special to be back in the semifinals in my home country!” she said after the win.

“Honestly I’ve had a tough year in the majors so you can never underestimate anyone,” she said when asked her thoughts on her upcoming “unlikely” opponents.

*American Hopefuls Taylor Townsend and Donald Young were eliminated from the mixed doubles competition earlier in the day on Ashe, 6-3, 6-4.*