NEW YORK—Much has been made of the “fierce” (Nike marketing lingo) leopard-print dress Serena Williams has been wearing at this year’s U.S. Open. The symbolism embodied therein is obvious in a variety of ways, none more relevant than in way the pattern evokes that old saw, “A leopard doesn’t change its spots.”
The year 2014 has been the time of Serena’s discontent, and her failures at Grand Slams have left her most ardent fans hoping she might recapture the fierce attitude and game that enabled her to win 17 Grand Slam titles. Tonight in the quarterfinals she showed that a September miracle is well within reach. She was the Serena of days gone by as she put on a formidable display of firepower against a tough, veteran opponent, a fellow 32-year-old veteran and No. 11 seed, Flavia Pennetta.
Williams spotted Pennetta three games, then reeled off 12 of the next 14 to win going away, 6-3, 6-2. The match lasted just an hour and three minutes, which was time enough for Williams to crack 31 winners and make good on five of 15 break points.
Williams started slowly. Pennetta won a Hawk-Eye challenge on the very first point. On the next, Williams was called for a foot fault and ultimately lost the point. In a few moments she was broken. Williams managed to reach break point against Pennetta’s serve in the next game, but she made two backhand errors to give up the game. Pennetta broke Williams again in the next game, at which time she found herself the winner of 13 of 19 points, and holding a 3-0 lead.
The deficit set off alarm bells somewhere in Williams. Finding her familiar fury, she put Pennetta in a 0-40 hole in the next game, and while two errors gave her opponent hope, Williams converted the third break point with a sharp forehand serve return that the Italian drove into the net.
Williams then held with ease, and capitalized on her momentum to break serve again, due largely to bold serve returns that had Pennetta back on her heels. It was 3-3, and the next point Williams won was her 14th of the last 21. It was a mirror image of the first three games, the major difference being that Pennetta capitalized on Williams’ errors, while Williams took matters into her hands and blasted winners or put Pennetta in hopeless quandaries.
Williams held, and broke yet again for 5-3. The final game of the set was a masterpiece. After throwing in two double faults that ultimately left her trailing 15-40, Williams reeled off three stupendous serves and made the most of each, hitting an outright winner or an unreturned approach shot off the return. When she reached set point, she nailed a serve to Pennetta’s backhand that went unreturned.
It was a frustrating turn of events for Pennetta, and the turning point of the match. But there was nothing she could have done differently to halt Williams’ charge, and she did well to hold her own through the first four games of the second set.
In the fifth game, a devastating barrage by Williams left Pennetta down 0-40, and Williams secured the key break with a thunderous cross-court forehand winner. An easy hold followed by another break of Pennetta’s serve left Williams serving for the match. She reached match point without drama, and sealed the win with a final, stinging serve that Pennetta couldn’t handle.
The win was Williams’ 19th in a row at the U.S. Open, and it leaves her facing Ekaterina Makarova in the semifinals.