Indian Wells - Elena Vesnina denied Venus Williams another
great escape, beating the seven-time Grand Slam champion 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 Thursday
to reach the semi-finals at Indian Wells.
As Williams shook off a lethargic start and began to apply
some pressure, Vesnina kept her poise, finishing off the contest on her fourth
match point after fending off six break points in the final game.
She'll play Kristina Mladenovic for a place in the final
after the French player's 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 victory over former world number
one Caroline Wozniacki.
"When I was up three-love in the first set she was
missing some easy shots," Vesnina said of Williams. "She looked tired
and slow on the court. Then, all of a sudden, she started moving around,
hitting great shots, winners from all over the place.
"I kind of lost my rhythm, because I didn't know what
When Williams levelled the match at a set apiece, Vesnina
couldn't help recalling that the American had saved three match points in her
second-round victory over Jelena Jankovic.
"I was like, 'Uh-Oh, it's coming back again. I'm going
to be another victim of Venus," she said.
Williams, who ended a 15-year boycott of the event last year
but lost her opening match, was in pursuit of a first Indian Wells title.
The 36-year-old star did indeed save three match points
against her own serve in the eighth game of the third set - a game that went
to deuce six times before Williams held with a blistering forehand winner.
She appeared poised to pull back a service break when she
raced to a 0-40 lead on Vesnina's serve in the next game, but Vesnina dug in. A
lucky net cord bounce and two backhand errors from Williams got it to deuce,
but she would have three more break chances before an ecstatic Vesnina sealed
it with a forehand winner.
"I was actually very proud of myself, how I held my
nerve," Vesnina said. "I was 0-40 down, but I didn't even think about
that it's 0-40. It was point by point, trying to create a good rally, trying to
move her around.
"I stuck to this game - I was really fighting like
it's the last game of my life."
Vesnina, a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, reached the
semi-finals of an elite Premier Mandatory level tournament for the first time,
as did the in-form Mladenovic - whose season so far has included a first career
title in St. Petersburg and a runner-up finish in Acapulco this month.
It took Mladenovic some time to find her way into the match
against 2011 Indian Wells champion Wozniacki.
She was unable to convert nine break points in the opening
set as Wozniacki powered to a 5-1 lead, finally breaking the Dane for 5-2.
Although Wozniacki duly pocketed the first set, Mladenovic
had found her range and it was a see-saw battle featuring six breaks of serve
as they played to the second-set tiebreaker.
"I went for my game," Mladenovic said. "I
went for some variation. I think I played differently at some points, trying to
use more the court to make her run, as well, because she was doing that pretty
well to me.
"Something new I put today was the serve and volley on
such important points. I impressed myself with that!
"It paid off, and it gave me a chance to fight a third
set. I think the third set was the best of today from me."