Serena rallies again, gets Azarenka in semifinals

Williams prevailed versus Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday, advancing to a semifinal versus Victoria Azarenka, a rival and a friend. A championship would tie Williams with Margaret Court at 24 major singles titles.

Down a set and a break to the unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarterfinals of the United States Open, Serena Williams was in danger of succumbing to a story line even better than her own.

Pironkova is not only unseeded. She is unranked and was playing in her first tour event in more than three years.

Not even Williams, a 38-year-old master of the comeback, has taken it to that extreme.

Pironkova, 32, is a tall Bulgarian veteran with an iconoclastic game who changes rhythm more often than “Bohemian Rhapsody.” She gave birth to a son, Alexander, in April 2018 and was unclear whether she wanted to return to the tour at all. She clearly made a sound career move, and on Wednesday was in range, if not quite on the brink, of her biggest triumph before Williams came back to prevail, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

“It just shows me how tough moms are,” said Williams, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Olympia. “Whenever you can give birth to a baby, honestly you can do anything. And I think we saw that with Tsvetana today.”

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But only one working mother could win this match, and after Williams’s strong finish, she will meet another in Thursday’s semifinals, Victoria Azarenka.

Williams and Azarenka met in consecutive U.S. Open finals, in 2012 and 2013.

Williams prevailed both times in three sets and leads their series, 18-4.

Williams still has an opportunity to chase her dreams to the end of this U.S. Open, a tournament where the end has been bitter since she won her sixth singles title here way back in 2014.

”I’m happy to be standing here talking to you,” she said in an ESPN interview on court after the finish. “Because I think at one point I was pretty close to not being here. I keep fighting, and that’s something I’m super excited about. I never give up, and I have to keep going.”

She has told herself that before, in this latest phase of her magnificent career, and then faltered. Another chance looms this year, on a court without fans, a place where her memories are decidedly mixed.

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