By Mark Poulose
KEY BISCAYNE - It was supposed to be a day of celebration, but instead, it was a grueling battle for Serena Williams on a scorching hot Wednesday afternoon at the Miami Open, as the top-ranked player in the world pursued her 700th career win.
Williams needed three sets to defeat Sabine Lisicki, struggling to a 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-3 win to advance to the tournament semifinals for the third straight year. Serena is seeking her third consecutive title here, and eighth title overall.
For Williams, the victory was the 700th of her career, placing her just four victories behind Evonne Goolagong for eighth all-time.
“I didn’t know I had 700 wins,” Williams said after the match. “Now, I just want to keep going, do the best that I can.”
Serena has not lost in her last 19 matches played, but she came close to the brink on Wednesday. The 19-time grand slam champion battled herself as much as her opponent in the match, berating herself point after point and struggling to find her rhythm all afternoon.
“Today was not my best day,” Williams said. “I just told myself I’m not serving the way I normally sere and hitting the way I normally would hit, so at this point all I can do is just fight and try to give 200% instead of 100%.”
Pulling out the first set in a tiebreak, Williams then mentally ventured to parts unknown in the second set, losing it 6-1 in just 29 minutes. Williams often practiced her strokes in between points, uncomfortable with her play on court. The German broke the big-serving Serena three times in the second set.
“[Lisicki] had a lot of momentum going into the third set after winning the second. I just wanted to stay strong and basically really wanted to hold serve.”
Serena stumbled upon a modicum of consistency in the third set, and her talent began to shine through. Lisicki, a surprisingly powerful hitter from the baseline despite her petite frame, was unable to keep up with the muscle of Serena’s strokes, and lost the final set 6-3 after playing two superb sets.
It was Lisicki’s eighth appearance at the tournament, and her first time reaching the quarterfinals here. Lisicki had lost in the first round of five, of her previous six, tournaments before making the fourth round at Indian Wells last week, and she seems to have regained her form following her quarterfinal berth here.
Interestingly, Williams actually won five less points than Lisicki in the match, yet came out victorious. Serena will face either third-seeded Simona Halep or American Sloane Stephens in her semifinal match.