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By Chris Oddo | Thursday, April 2, 2015

 
Serena Williams, Miami 2015

Serena Williams survived an supercharged fightback from Simona Halep to set up a date with Carla Suarez Navarro in Saturday's final.

Photo Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Serena Williams threw every ounce of her being into trying to deliver a knockout punch to Simona Halep in the first set of their Miami Open semifinal on Thursday night, but Halep got off the canvas to push Williams to three sets and nearly score a massive upset.

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In the end Williams accelerated past Halep, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, to claim her 20th consecutive win and earn a spot in the final alongside Carla Suarez Navarro, but Halep’s ability to bob and weave and even trade blows with Williams had many thinking that the Romanian could serve as Williams’ biggest rival in the years to come.

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the mere possibility of a player who can threaten Williams is news enough for the WTA, which has seen Williams chew up and spit out many heirs to the throne in year’s past.

“I was close,” Halep said after the match. “I saw that I can win against her. I can play like until the end against her. I was a bit tired in the end, but it's normal. I have so many matches played already.”

Halep claimed a tight second set when she broke the Williams serve to take a 5-4 lead and held to 15 to close out the set. The turnaround came as such a surprise to Halep that she didn’t even realize she’d won the set. She needed to be told to go sit down, and broke into a smile as she headed to her chair. “Yeah, it was very, very strange, that moment for me,” she said afterwards.

Still mentally out of it, Halep would fall behind quickly in set three, but she showed tremendous resilience once behind, rallying back from 5-2 to level before Williams claimed the final two games.

As impressive as Halep’s performance was, it was the boss of Miami, seven-time champion Williams, who walked away with the victory.

Though their battle was wildly entertaining, Williams herself could have done without the drama. She was visibly upset about her inability to keep her level high in the second and third sets, and despite a strong finish in the final two games, she came away feeling that she could have done better.

“I just feel like it was on my racquet and I really had opportunities in the second,” Williams said. “I just didn't take it. That's is something that I can't do going into the Grand Slams coming up.”

Williams finished with 38 winners against 45 unforced errors, but her cleanest tennis was played in the opener, when she walloped 13 winners against only 7 unforced. Another bone of contention for Williams was her serve. She managed a 47 percent first-serve ratio and only seven aces.

“I'm just not at my best level right now and it's a little frustrating,” Williams said. “I'm not serving well. I am serving at 40%. Yeah, so it hasn't been my best of times. But, yeah, so that's just the only frustrating part. And I'm a perfectionist, so if I don't get it right I just want to keep trying.”

She may not have been perfect in the match, but for the season, Williams is a perfect 17-0. And when it comes to Miami, there’s nobody better. She improved to 72-7 at the event and will bid for her 8th title on Saturday.

As loved as Williams has come to be in what she calls her hometown, Halep and her contingent of Jalapeno t-shirt wearing rowdies turned the bleachers at the Crandon Park Tennis Center into “little Romania.” It was noticeable to Williams who appeared frustrated by it and tried to urge her American fans to be more vocal.

“It was definitely odd, but I think maybe she had a lot of fans,” Williams said. “At the end of day it doesn't matter. You know, it's good for the sport to have so many people excited about it.”

 

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