NEW YORK – As she walked to her seat after the first game, Serena Williams looked angry. Flavia Pennetta, the 32-year-old from Italy, had just broken the five-time U.S. Open champion to go up 1-0. Pennetta had won a Hawk-eye challenge on the first point, and Williams was called for a foot fault on the second point. Things were not going smoothly.
She'd later say that she didn't let it get to her, that she knew she had to take the match one game at a time. But at that moment, she just looked angry.
Williams forced break point in the second game, but two backhand errors allowed Pennetta to hold serve. 2-0. And then the unthinkable happened: Pennetta broke Williams again. 3-0. She'd only been broken three times in the first four rounds; now, she trailed by two breaks in the first set of the quarterfinals.
Pennetta was clearly not going to let Williams waltz into her fourth straight U.S. Open semifinals.
It appears Williams got the message. She proceeded to rattle off six straight wins, taking the first set 6-3. In the second set, each held serve to get to 2-2. Then, once again, Williams took over.
With Pennetta serving, Williams went up Love-30. She looked relaxed as she waited for a volley to land, first backpedaling and seeming to decide it was going out. Instead, it landed just inside the right corner. By then Williams had turned her entire body, squaring her hips and hitting a forehand right past Pennetta. Love-40, break point. She converted, and never looked back. Williams hit 13 aces en route to winning 75 percent of her first serve points. Her fastest serve clocked in at 122 miles per hour.
With the clock showing a total match time of just 1 hour, 3 minutes, Williams forced match point. Pennetta's return attempt sunk into the net. Williams, who was already approaching the net, pumped her fist in the air and continued to carry her racquet as she covered the remaining distance to the net, where she'd shake Pennetta's hand.
Tonight's celebration was much more typical than her giddy fourth-round celebration. Williams was back in her comfort zone, having proven to herself, her fans and her critics that she would make it to a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam this year. It took her four tries, but she says there's nowhere else she'd rather do it than New York.
"It feels so special," she said in her on-court interview. Katy Perry's "Roar" once again streamed through the stadium sound system, and Williams took her time signing three balls. She waitied to see who would cheer the loudest before hitting them into the crowd, and laughed when a man dropped the second ball.
She keeps saying she's just here to have fun, and tonight, she clearly enjoyed herself.
Williams will continue the quest for her third straight U.S. Open on Friday, taking on Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova, who advanced to the semifinals for the first time in her career by defeating Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's going to be interesting for me to do the best that I can, because, you know, she has a lot of momentum going into this match as well," Williams said when asked about Makarova. "She doesn't care who she plays, she gives 100%. Those types of players are often difficult to play because it makes them better."
As for her own level of play, which seems to have returned to form after a rough year, Williams still sees room for improvement. "Obviously I want to do better," she said. "Hopefully I can. Hopefully I can play two more matches. Hopefully I can win two more matches."