New York - The penultimate stage is set for the sixth step in Serena
Williams' campaign to put an exclamation mark on her storied career by winning
a fourth successive US Open to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam sweep.
History would heavily favour Williams in the US Open semi-finals on Thursday
at Flushing Meadows.
She owns 21 grand slam singles titles, which is 21 more than the other three
players combined, and is gunning for her seventh US Open singles trophy while
the others are straining to reach their first US final.
Unfancied Italians Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci have also made just one
grand slam singles semi-final between them before, while world number two
Simona Halep has made the semi-final stage at just two other grand slams.
The 32-year-old Vinci, ranked 43rd, will meet Williams, who has won their
four previous meetings, including the most recent last month in the
quarter-finals at Toronto.
"She played me really tough, and I didn't really expect that,"
said Williams, who has won 53 of 55 matches this year and won the Australian,
French and Wimbledon titles.
"I'm not going to underestimate her. She played really well. She's not
in the semi-finals of a grand slam for no reason. She knows what to do and she
knows what to play.
"Definitely a little bit more old school ... it's fun to see people
that can still come to the net and still hit slice and still hit one-handers.
It's different. It's good for tennis."
Vinci, who has won 25 doubles titles in her career, is 22-20 in singles
matches and without a singles title this season.
She is already thrilled by her performances in New York.
"I think I'm at the end of my career, so my semi-final, first (slam)
semi-final, it's incredible," said the 32-year-old.
"I'm very proud of myself. I have nothing to lose, just play my game.
"I know that I have a lot of experience, but when you play against
Serena doesn't matter.
"You have to play better, then better, then better."
Pennetta, 33, also draws a difficult assignment against Halep. The Italian
has a 3-1 career edge, but lost 6-3 7-5 in their last encounter earlier this
year in Miami.
The veteran said she would not overlook the power of the short, quick-footed
Romanian, who she rated as more powerful than former world number one Victoria
Azarenka, who fell in three sets to Halep in the quarter-finals.
"To make a winner to her you have to finish the point seven
times," Pennetta said. "She's always there, always in - the ball
always comes back."
Halep, who has won three times this year, lost in the second round at the
French Open, where she was runner-up in 2014, and beaten in the first round at
That led her to take a hiatus before rediscovering her form on the
hard-courts running up to the US Open.
"I don't have big muscles. I'm not tall. I have power inside,"
Halep said. "I fight.
"Every point is a big challenge. I do everything I can. I run for every
ball, and that makes me stronger in this moment."