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 times champion, while her own lightweight jab inflicted some early pain and then levelled the see-saw encounter at 1-1.
Williams’ 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, while her return worked 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, who is hunting down a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, 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.
“I just needed to fight,” said Williams. “She was not giving it to me. I needed to step up and take it. That’s what I had to do.”
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 with her 19th ace of the match to set up a clash with unseeded Czech Barbora Strycova, who beat Britain’s Johanna Konta in straight sets.
While the women’s game is often exalted as being wildly unpredictable, Williams remains the exception to the rule and Tuesday’s win secured her a 37th Grand Slam semi-final appearance.
She came into the quarters having won 96 singles matches at the All England Club, while the other seven players left in the draw had won 80 between them.