London: Serena Williams clubbed her way into the Wimbledon semi-finals, draining the last drop of fight from fellow American Alison Riske before sealing a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win in a rip-roaring Centre Court contest on Tuesday.
For two sets, Riske absorbed every last punishing blow from the seven-time champion, while her own lightweight jab inflicted some early pain and then levelled the seesaw encounter at 1-1.
Williams’s blows, however, became too frequent and too heavy in the final games, with the weaponised serve pushing the world number 55 Riske back on her heels, leaving the Williams forehand to work like an old slugger’s right-hook.
Having knocked out world number one Ash Barty in the last round and having spent over nine hours on court en route to the quarters — the longest path to the last eight of anyone since 2011 — Riske had shown a streak of pure Pittsburgh steel.
But Williams is tennis tungsten, and recovered superbly from a brief wobble in which she lost the second set and fell a break behind in the third.
She eventually charged over the finish line after more than two hours on court, bringing up match point when Riske netted a forehand and completing the job in typical fashion with her 19th ace of the match.
“It was really satisfying; I wouldn’t have won that match a couple of weeks ago, every match here has really counted,” said Williams, whose time on court since the Australian Open in January has been limited by a niggling knee injury.
“She has played so great and beaten so many great players here. I was really pumped, it’s for a place in the Wimbledon semis — it’s a long arduous road.”
Earlier, Serena was fined $10,000 (Dh36,724.7) by the All England Club for damaging a court during the ongoing Wimbledon. The incident occurred during a practice session before the start of this year’s tournament.
Simona Halep reached her second Wimbledon semi-final with a 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 victory over China’s Zhang Shuai.
Halep, the seventh seeded former world number one, will face either Elina Svitolina, the eighth seed from Ukraine, or Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic for a place in the final.
Zhang, bidding to become just the second Chinese woman to reach the semi-finals, led 4-1 in the first set and held four break points for a 5-1 lead.
“I fought hard in the first set, even if I was down 4-1,” said 27-year-old Halep, a former French Open champion.
“I knew I had to be strong, play aggressive as much as possible and I did it great.
“I have energy, I feel fresh, I feel healthy, I feel confident when I step on the court.”
Romania’s Halep last made the last-four in 2014 when she was beaten by Eugenie Bouchard.
Wednesday’s action can see Roger Federer racking up his 100th win at Wimbledon and set-up a blockbuster semi-final against Rafael Nadal.
In a quarter-final line-up which features five players over 30, there is a growing anticipation of a potential 40th career match-up between the sport’s two most successful players.
If it does happen, it will be their first at the All England Club since 2008 when Nadal triumphed in what is widely regarded as the greatest final ever played at the tournament.
However, before they reach that stage, eight-time champion Federer has to get past Kei Nishikori while Nadal, a two-time winner, tackles big-hitting Sam Querrey.
Whoever battles through that side of the draw is likely to find defending champion and four-time winner Novak Djokovic waiting in the final.
At 37, Federer is the oldest quarter-finalist since Jimmy Connors in 1991.
He reached his 17th quarter-final at the All England Club — and 55th at the majors — with a 74-minute demolition of Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, dropping just five games.
Between them, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic lost only 19 games in their fourth-round ties and faced just one break point.
“I think the best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions,” said second seed Federer.
“That helps us to play better. I think with experience, that’s good. We haven’t dropped much energy in any way.”
Federer will take a 7-3 record over seventh-seeded Nishikori into his quarter-final.
Nishikori defeated the great Swiss in the ATP Finals last year, ending a drought which had stretched to almost five years.
“I’m a big fan of his game,” said Federer of the Japanese star, who is into his second successive quarter-final at Wimbledon.
“I think he’s got one of the best backhands in the game. He’s a great return player. Solid mentally. I always thought he was a great talent.”
Nadal, playing in his seventh Wimbledon quarter-final, faces Querrey backed up by a 4-1 record over the 65th-ranked American.
Querrey made the semi-finals in 2017, beating then world number one Andy Murray in the last-eight before falling to Marin Cilic.
The American has pounded down 100 aces so far at the tournament, dropped serve just once and accounted for fifth seed Dominic Thiem in the first round.
“When he plays well, he can be very, very dangerous on all surfaces,” said Nadal, whose recent 12th French Open title took him to 18 majors, just two back from Federer’s record.
Serena Williams (11), US beat Alison Riske, US, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
Simona Halep (7), Romania, def. Shuai Zhang, China, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
Order of Play
Centre Court: 1-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) vs 21-David Goffin (Belgium); 8-Kei Nishikori (Japan) vs 2-Roger Federer (Switzerland).
Court One: 26-Guido Pella (Argentina) vs 23-Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain); Sam Querrey (US) vs 3-Rafa Nadal (Spain).