DUBAI, UAE - Having told celebrity chef Silvena Rowe she has "unfinished business in Dubai" during an off-court cooking activity earlier in the week, Serena Williams took one step closer to finishing that business on Thursday, reaching the semifinals - a win away from her first final at the Premier stop.
The No.1-seeded Williams dropped serve once midway through the first set but got five breaks of her own to cruise past No.5-seeded Jelena Jankovic in straight sets in an hour and 16 minutes, 62 62.
"It was kind of slow and heavy, and the ball didn't really go off my racquet - I was hitting the balls short," Jankovic said. "She took control of the match. She was pretty much in control the whole time. I didn't feel too good out there, and I wasn't really striking the ball the way I usually strike the ball.
"But she was the better player tonight. Way better. All the credit to her."
"It definitely felt a lot more comfortable than my first match," Williams said afterwards. "There were some shots I missed today that I would never have missed a month ago, so I'm still getting a little rust off, but it feels good overall. And I'm still trying to make sure I keep going in the right direction."
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is one of the few big events Williams has never conquered - she has never been to the final here in fact, her best results being a pair of semifinals in 2005 (retiring against Jankovic due to a shoulder injury) and in 2009 (falling to Venus Williams).
Awaiting Williams in the semifinals is Alizé Cornet, who won a grind-fest against Carla Suárez Navarro in the last match of the day, 75 63. Suárez Navarro was up a break twice in the first set and again up a break early in the second set, but the French No.1 kept clawing back to edge the Spanish No.1.
"It was a tough match tonight because Carla has a very special game with a lot of topspin," Cornet said. "Sometimes it's tough to control the ball against her, and that's why I think she does so well.
"But I think she was a little bit tired from her match against Kvitova yesterday, so I took my chance and made her run, and I was a little more consistent on the important points. I'm very happy I did it."
"I'm excited," Cornet said of the match-up. "I've had a great tournament so far and tomorrow's going to be like a bonus for me. Of course I believe in my chances and I'll give my best like I do in every match though. I'll play my game and use my topspin and fighting spirit and we'll see how the match goes.
"I look forward to seeing how I compare against the best player in the world and a great champion."
With the best win of her career coming against a No.5-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova at Rome in 2008, Cornet will also be looking for her first win over a Top 4 player - she's 0-17 against them so far.