Australian Open

Don’t be ‘Baby-rena’, says Serena Williams as she powers into Australian Open semi-finals

The American great cruises past Johanna Konta to set up clash with fellow veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:20pm

An irrepressible Serena Williams kept her record-breaking grand slam dream alive on Wednesday by beating Johanna Konta to make the Australian Open semi-final, where she will meet fellow veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

The American joined sister Venus in the last four after stepping up a level to oust the dangerous Briton 6-2, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena and end her nine-match winning streak.

Her battling victory keeps intact a potential all-Williams final, with Venus needing to get past fellow American Coco Vandeweghe in the other semi-final to ensure the nostalgic showdown.

But first Serena must beat former teenage prodigy Lucic-Baroni, who upset fifth seed Karolina Pliskova to continue her heart-warming comeback after her career was derailed by personal issues.

“She played so well, she’s definitely a future champion here for sure,” Williams said of ninth-seeded Konta.

“I’m really happy to get through that. I got a little frustrated, but I told myself, stop complaining. Don’t be ‘Baby-rena’. I admit I complain a lot. That’s my thing. I try to just have fun, and try to enjoy the moment out here.”

The victory over Konta, who had been in impeccable touch heading into the match, marked an incredible 10th successive grand slam semi-final for Williams, and her 34th overall, reinforcing the 35-year-old’s remarkable consistency.

She has refused to talk about the possibility of finally surpassing Steffi Graf to win a 23rd grand slam and take sole ownership of the Open-era record.

But Williams now has a real chance of doing so to further cement her place as perhaps the greatest player of all time.

If she achieves the goal of winning a seventh Australian Open, it will also propel her back to world number one, after Angelique Kerber snatched the accolade from her last year.

In the first meeting between the pair, Konta showed intent by winning the opening point but Williams settled to hold serve, before the Briton served to love.

Williams was struggling with her first serve, with just one in three finding their mark in the opening encounters and she had to fend off a break point in the third game, raising her arms in the air when she finally won with an ace.

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But it was Konta under pressure in the next game with Williams unloading some powerful ground strokes, forcing a backhand error from the Briton to go 3-1 in front.

Williams is known for her pounding forehand winners, but her baseline weapon had been lacking its usual punch in Melbourne, until now.

She began hitting some ferocious shots that Konta struggled to counter and the decorated American raced through the first set in 35 minutes.

Before the match, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said Williams must start moving better around the court to counter Konta’s lightning fast game, and she seemed to have taken the advice to heart.

But her service game continued to cause problems with too many first serves called out, handing Konta a chance on the second and she broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set when Williams shunted a forehand wide.

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But back-to-back aces on Williams’ next service game helped her confidence and she broke back to level the scores at 3-3.

Konta, 25, who made the semi-finals last year in a breakthrough season, remained calm and collected but she could do nothing to stop Williams as she moved up another gear to close out the match.

Lucic-Baroni stunned fifth seed Pliskova to make her first grand slam semi-final since Wimbledon in 1999.

The unseeded Croat used all her experience to upset the Czech 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, before collapsing on court in tears.

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“I can’t believe this. This is crazy. The only thing I can say is God is good. That’s all I can say. I can’t believe it. I feel a little bit in shock,” she said.

“To me, this is overwhelming. I will never forget this day and the last couple of weeks. This has truly made my life, and everything bad that happened, [it] has made it okay.”