Serena Williams battled illness and fierce heat to reach a third French Open final, defeating Timea Bacsinszky to move one win away from a 20th Grand Slam title.
The world number one and Paris champion in 2002 and 2013 was clearly ill and distressed for large parts of her semi-final.
She trailed by a set and a break in the second before racing to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 win, reeling off the last 10 games of the semi-final.
The 33-year-old American goes on to face Czech 13th seed Lucie Safarova, who beat Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 7-5, in Saturday’s final where victory will put her just two Grand Slam titles behind Steffi Graf’s Open record of 22.
Friday’s result was tough on Swiss 23rd seed Bacsinszky who was making a living washing dishes and working in hotels just two years ago during an injury-enforced absence from the tour.
“I kept trying to find the energy and keep fighting. I wasn’t feeling well,” said Williams who has now reached a 24th major final having come back from a first-set deficit four times at the tournament.
— Pat Cash (@TheRealPatCash) June 4, 2015
Williams was all business as usual in her first two service games, giving up just a single point.
But Bacsinszky wasn’t intimidated and broke for 3-2 with a searing crosscourt backhand off a Williams’ second serve which could have been lifted from the American’s playbook.
Williams, who went into the tie having lost just three of her 26 Grand Slam semi-finals, was clearly suffering in the 29-degree heat.
Her breathing was laboured, she wearily demanded more and more ice-towels during changeovers and was looking increasingly disorientated.
The blonde Swiss outsider had nothing to lose and played like it.
Having started a college course in hotel management during her absence from the tour, Bacsinszky was revelling in her moment in the sun, as fierce as it was on Court Philippe Chatrier.
She saw two set points disappear and then face down a break point in the 10th game but wrapped up the opener when Williams overhit an easy forehand drive.
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 4, 2015
Bacsinszky’s 16 winners were twice as many as her opponent, perfectly illustrating the requirement that attack is the only option against the American superstar whatever her state of mind.
Williams fought off five break points in the fifth game of the second set but was broken when she fired a desperate backhand wide.
At the changeover, Williams’s coughing spurts became so loud that they echoed around the arena courtesy of the courtside microphones.
Rejuvenated, the top seed broke for 1-0 in the decider, backed it up with a double break for 3-0 and again for 5-0 as Bacsinszky wilted.
The contest was over when the Swiss fired a loose backhand having won just 12 points in the entire final set.
Lucie Safarova reached her first Grand Slam final at the age of 28 on Thursday when she defeated former winner Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 7-5 in a mistake-ridden French Open semi-final.
The Czech 13th seed will play either top seeded American Serena Williams or Swiss 23rd seed Timea Bacsinszky in Saturday’s final.
Safarova is the first Czech woman to reach the French Open final since Hana Mandlikova won the title in Paris in 1981. Prior to this year, her best showing had been a run into the last 16 in 2007 and 2014.
“It’s a dream come true. I still cannot believe it,” she said after converting her third match point.
“I started too slowly, but I tried to pick up my level and started to play really aggressively because that was the only way to get the win.”
Ivanovic, the champion at Roland Garros as a 20-year-old in 2008, had to battle hard to get into the last four, three times going the full distance.
In contrast Safarova had not dropped a set, winning five straight tie-breaks, one of those coming in the first set against defending champion Maria Sharapova in the round of 16.
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 4, 2015
But it was the Serb, watched by German World Cup winning footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger, who made the stronger start.
She raced into a 3-0 lead on the back of a service break in the second game before Safarova opened her account.
On the hottest day of the tournament so far, Safarova was close to going into an early meltdown as Ivanovic staggered her with some superb line drives.
The Czech player, making just her second appearance in a Grand Slam semi-final after last year’s Wimbledon, knuckled down, however, to hold her next three serves and then redeemed her earlier loss with a break in the ninth game.
It was the turn of Ivanovic to struggle as Safarova won four games in a row and then served out for the first set to zero thanks to some dismal shot-making from the Serb.
Safarova staved off break points to level at 1-1 as the second set got underway and she promptly broke the Ivanovic serve for a third time to ease ahead.
— Bethanie MattekSands (@BMATTEK) June 4, 2015
The 13th seed was dominating the match now, with Ivanovic looking more and more out of sorts, and she had break points to go 4-1 up.
Ivanovic survived those, but her game was clearly off.
Safarova looked headed for a comfortable win, but inexplicably her serve collapsed at 5-4 and three double faults allowed Ivanovic to stay alive, finally converting a second break point after nine failures.
But it was only a stay of execution as Ivanovic failed to hold serve in the next game and Safarova this time made no mistake to record the biggest win of her career to date and book a place in the final.
Andy Murray beat David Ferrer 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 5-7 6-1 to reach the semi-finals of the French Open for the third time and Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal.