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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The flaming red, white and blue ball gleamed on the back wall behind her as Venus Williams blazed through a thriller.

Down a break in the decisive set, Williams showed fierce competitive fire outdueling Petra Kvitova in an pulsating US Open thriller, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2) to burst into her third Grand Slam semifinal of the season.

Watch: Stephens Keeps Dream Alive, Barges Into US Open Semifinals

Energized by a loud crowd of 23,000 exhorting her, Williams fought back from 1-3 down in both the first and last sets, even losing her left earring chasing down one drive, then erupted in the tie break break prevailing in a glorious duel of first-strike tennis.

“I have to say I felt every single one of you guys behind me—all 23,000,” Williams told the crowd afterward. “I mean that feels good. That feels amazing. I didn’t want to let you guys down. Thank you so much for the support.”




The 37-year Williams raised her 2017 Grand Slam record to 20-3 returning to the US Open final four for the first time since 2010.

It’s the first time since 2002 Williams has reached at least three major semifinals in a single season and it sets up a blockbuster all-American semifinal with Fed Cup teammate Sloane Stephens.

It’s the first all-American US Open women’s semifinal since Serena Williams defeated Lindsay Davenport in 2002.

A explosive match continued an American comeback theme. For the third straight match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, an American woman staged a dramatic comeback from a break down in the decider.

Last night, Madison Keys rallied from 2-4 down in the final set edging Elina Svitolina, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-4.

Earlier today, Stephens battled back from 1-3 down in the decider slipping past Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4). Stephens was a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victor over Williams in their lone prior encounter at the 2015 Roland Garros and carries great respect for the American icon into their rematch.

“I think Venus is just our leader,” Stephens said. “I think as a whole, she's just like what everyone looks up to. She's a great player, a great person. She's a great leader.

“Being on Fed Cup teams with her, like, there is not anything bad you can say about Venus. I'm just honored to be able to play at the same time as her. I'm happy she's still playing. She means a lot to the game.”

In just her eighth tournament since she was attacked in a horrific home invasion suffering stab wounds to her racquet hand, Kvitova played with emotional fire, particularly on break points.

The two-time Wimbledon champion fought off eight of the 11 break points she faced on the night.

Decelerating on a second serve, Williams netted her second double fault to face double break point. Williams’ third double fault put Kvitova up a break at 2-1.

Committed to first-strike tennis, Kvitova consolidated in the fourth game, but stressed out on serve in the sixth game. She sprayed a second serve four feet long then failed in her effort to squeeze a forehand down the line, gifting back the break at 15.

As Williams found her range and rhythm, Kvitova’s level dropped considerably. Catching her toss at times and leaking errors, the Czech left-hander faced triple break point again. Williams carved out a diagonal backhand winner struck from the center of the court breaking for 5-3.




Thriving off the Czech’s pace, Williams committed half as many unforced errors as her opponent (17 to 8) streaking through the opening set on a five-game run.

Rallies were brief as each woman was intent on taking the first strike. Kvitova cracked a backhand winner for break point then benefited from a net cord spinning a backhand down the line to break for a 2-0 second-set lead.




A thick blanket of humidity left both ladies dripping sweat. Kvitova mixed in some fine backhand drop shots contrasting with the flat rockets she drove from that wing saving a pair of break points for 3-0.




Thickening clouds gave birth to a spitting shower. Play was stopped for about 11 minutes as the retractable roof was closed over Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Regrouping during the break, Williams stamped a love hold in the fourth game.

Erasing another break point, the left-hander lashed successive aces punctuating a 4-1 lead with a shout.




Contesting her 19th US Open, the 37-year-old American still moves like a teenager. Propelled by her long strides, Williams lost her left earring chasing a crosscourt Kvitova drive. For the third straight game, the 13th-seeded Czech saved a break point for 5-2 punctuating another hard-fought hold with a hearty scream.

Superb attacking tennis helped Kvitova level after 87 minutes. For the sixth time in as many meetings, the pair would go the distance.

Kvitova scalded a backhand return and followed flattening out another crosscourt backhand scoring the first break of the final set for 2-1.

The set took another plot twist in the fourth game. Kvitova confronted triple break point and answered emphatically. Denying all three break points, she slid her second ace out wide building a 3-1 lead for the third straight set.

Kvitova couldn’t sustain it. Her third double fault gave back the break in the sixth game. Williams backed up the break. Kvitova cranked out consecutive aces to level, 4-all.

Standing tall in an tense game that left some fans bending in their seats as if recoiling from the pressure, Williams worked through a demanding four-deuce hold in the ninth game.

Exhorted on by the roaring 23,000 fans in the tie break, Williams showed courage bolting a forehand down the line for 3-1. Another bold forehand strike down the line coaxed an error for 5-1.

All the good work Kvitova did on this night dissolved with a double fault handing Williams five match points.

On her second match point, Williams withstood another foot fault call closing in two hours, 34 minutes as Kvitova’s backhand return missed the mark.




The smiling seven-time Grand Slam champion twirled to the crowd in appreciation into a semifinal return 20 years after she burst into the final in her US Open debut.

For Venus Williams, the fire still burns.

“When situations get hairy, it’s crazy, I try to tell myself enjoy the competition, enjoy the battle,” Williams told fans afterward. “Thank you guys for being here and seeing me through. “


 

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