CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Venus Williams' trek back to the top of the game took another big step at the Western & Southern Open on Friday afternoon, as the former World No.1 reached her first semifinal since returning to the WTA in March - she also got her fifth Top 10 win of that five month stretch.
Taking on Sam Stosur, the No.64-ranked Williams showed her level is far beyond her ranking, battling to a 62 67(2) 64 win over the No.3-seeded reigning US Open champion, cruising through the first set and, after losing a marathon 61-minute second set, regrouping to take the Grandstand marathon in three.
"She played very well - I have to give her credit for that," Williams said. "In tie-breakers you just have to play one point at a time, and today I let it get away from me. Once that happens, you just have to move on. That's pretty much it. And that's why there's three sets in tennis - it had to be decided in the third.
"I didn't realize I was going to be that excited when I won. Of course under the circumstances, serving it out 6-4 in the third, it was very exciting."
Williams' best results in the five months she has been back had been three quarterfinals, all at the Premier level, at Miami, Charleston and Rome - now she has gotten over the hump and into her first semifinal of the season.
"In a lot of my quarterfinals I fell short and couldn't play my best," Williams said. "I'd like to think this is only the beginning for me of more semifinals. Of course I'm going to stay focused and try to make it a final as well. I'd like to take it a lot further. But I haven't played a lot since 2010 - this is awesome for me already."
Williams' win over the No.6-ranked Stosur was her fifth Top 10 win since coming back. She had one in Miami (Petra Kvitova), one in Rome (Stosur), one at the Olympics (Sara Errani) and two so far this week (Errani and Stosur).
With the US Open just around the corner, could Williams be another name in the conversation? "Obviously it's nice to have positive things said about me, but I need to focus on every point when I get to the Open," she said. "It takes a lot more than talking to win a tournament. That's one thing I do know.
"You have to walk the walk, hit the shot, and execute."
And that seems to be the focus of her on-court demeanor. "My whole goal on the court is to stay positive, and no matter what shot I hit, even if I'm a little disappointed after the shot, I try to regroup and stay positive," she added. "That's the name to winning matches. You can't be down on yourself during a match and have your opponent trying to take you down, too. It's just too much."
Next up for Williams is No.9 seed Li Na, who not only won her rain-postponed third round match against qualifier Johanna Larsson earlier in the day, 62 62, but trounced No.1 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the evening, 61 61.
"Of course I was tired but in my mind I was feeling strong, and I felt I could win both matches," Li said. "I did the same in Montréal last week, same schedule, so I was confident I could do it again. But right now I really just want to sleep!"
"I think she's really on fire," Radwanska said of Li. "She's really playing great tennis right now. I haven't played my best these two weeks for sure, but she has played really well. Even when she plays two matches in one day she's great."