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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, June 3, 2016

 
Kiki Bertens, Serena Williams

Serena Williams saved two set points fighting off Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (7), 6-4, to set up a Roland Garros final with Garbine Muguruza, the last woman to beat Williams in Paris.

Photo credit: Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Serena Williams will play for Grand Slam immortality against the woman who made her look merely mortal in their last Roland Garros clash.

Williams says Garbine Muguruza made her a better player. The 21-time Grand Slam champion will need to be at her best when she meets Muguruza in the Roland Garros final tomorrow.

Watch: Serena Rallies Past Putintseva

Sluggish at the start, the defending Roland Garros champion denied two set points and battled back from a break down in both sets fighting off Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (7), 6-4, to advance to her fourth French Open final.

It is Williams' seventh Grand Slam final in her last eight major appearances.

The world No. 1 will face Muguruza in a rematch of the 2015 Wimbledon final that saw Williams score a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

The fourth-seeded Muguruza dismissed 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur, 6-2, 6-4, to reach her second Grand Slam final in her last four major appearances.

It's become a highly-anticipated annual major meeting. All four of the prior meetings between the power players have come in Grand Slam tournaments with Williams holding a 3-1 lead over Muguruza.

"I think that she and I are players who like dictating the game. We like dominating the game," Muguruza said. "I think I'm going to fight for each point. There will be moments when she'll be dominating, and maybe at times I will be dominating. I think I can be a tough opponent, too."

Williams is playing for her 22nd Grand Slam title to equal Steffi Graf's Open Era record for most majors. The 22-year-old Muguruza, who has won 12 consecutive sets since dropping the first set of her opening-round win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in her opener, is aiming for her first career Grand Slam championship.

"If I get there it will be great," Williams said afterward. "I guess you can say it took me a while to get to 18, considering I'm the only one on tour that had 18.

"The same with 21 and trying to get to another one. Nothing I can do about it.  The only thing can I do is just play to win the tournament and that's it."

It's an intriguing final. Will we see the Williams who swept Muguruza on the Centre Court lawn last July or the Muguruza who hit Williams off the court handing the No. 1 her worst Grand Slam defeat with a 6-2, 6-2 thrashing at the 2014 Roland Garros?

"That match made me a better player," Williams told Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob after her semifinal win. "(Muguruza) pointed out some weaknesses in that match I just didn't want to address. And after that, I addressed them and became a better player."

On an overcast chilly afternoon, family members cramming in Bertens box seemed to outnumber the rest of the fans scattered throughout Court Philippe Chatrier in the early stages.

It was a lethargic start for Williams, who littered a double fault to drop serve in the opening game.

Pained by a left calf injury in her quarterfinal upset of 2015 semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, Bertens held at 30 for 2-0.

Both women were moving a bit stiffly at the start. Playing with her left calf taped up, Bertens grimaced through gritted teeth chasing down a Williams drop shot in the seventh game.

The top seed, rumored to be hampered by an abductor injury, tested the world No. 58 with a couple of drop shots holding for 3-4. Asked afterward if she is battling a strained abductor, Williams replied: "Yeah, I have had some issues, but, you know, it is what it is... I think it's survival of who can do best."

Survival skills helped her extend the set.

Mixing the pace and spins on her serve, Bertens often left Williams lunging at returns in working through a quick hold for 5-3.

Bertens earned set point in the ninth game, but flattened a forehand down the line into net. By then, Bertens had converted just one of seven break points. Williams answered with a 116 mph bolt down the middle and serve winner holding for 4-5.

Mobility issues cost the Dutchwoman when she served for the set at 30-all. Williams hit a forehand drop shot. Unable to push off her left leg, Bertens couldn't even chase down the ball. Williams broke back on an error to level.





Bertens seemed to pinch back tears after pursuing a Williams shot in the 11th game.

In a tense and wildly shifting tie break, Williams hit a slick stab volley and forehand swing volley to help build a 5-2 lead. The top seed held set point at 6-5, but netted a forehand drop volley then badly bungled a backhand drop volley handing Bertens a second set point at 7-6. The Dutchwoman blinked missing another forehand.

That was all Williams needed. A backhand return winner down the line gave her set point number two. She slide a wide serve and slammed a forehand winner down the line seizing a one-set lead after 55 minutes.

There were nervous and sloppy patches, but Williams withstood a pair of set points to move within one set of the final.

Undaunted, Bertens blasted a backhand winner down the line breaking at love for a 2-0 second-set lead. Williams broke right back, whacking a forehand winner down the line to get back on serve.

The three-time champion denied two break points holding with a low forehand volley for 3-all.

Zapping an inside-out forehand for double break point, Williams dragged a forehand winner earning her third break for a 4-3 advantage.




Battling until the end, Bertens stubbornly staved off three match points in the ninth game.

On her fourth match point, a Bertens forehand sailed long. The pair shared an appreciative handshake at net.

Aside from her customary victory twirl, the reigning champion's celebration was subdued. Williams has battled aches and pains, soggy conditions and a pair of determined opponents ranked outside the Top 50 in the last two rounds and looked like a woman intent on saving her energy for what should be a major Muguruza challenge in the final.

How will Williams handle her latest shot at history? She aims to bring her best.

"I was one match away, one set away in Australia," Williams said. "That was really disappointing. Regardless, I'm still one away. The only thing I can do is play my hardest, play better than today, and hopefully I'll get some good results."



 

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