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By Chris Oddo/ Thursday, September 26, 2013

 

Venus Williams cracked a record-breaking serve and didn't lose her nerve in a spirited three-set victory over Eugenie Bouchard in Tokyo.

Photo Source: AP

Venus Williams reached the semifinals of Tokyo's Toray Pan Pacific Open for the first time on Thursday by defeating 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3.

The victory is Williams' second three-set triumph in as many nights and moves the 33-year-old American just two matches from her first title of 2013 and 45th title of her career.

Before this week, Williams had not won back-to-back matches on tour since April in Charleston. Lower back flare-ups have made it difficult to develop any consistency, but those problems appear to be behind her, at least for the moment. If you needed proof, consider the fact that Williams broke her own personal serve speed record with a 129.9 mph serve (the record may not be official, as the WTA says that IDS, the tour's official serve tracker, is not on site in Tokyo).

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“I know I've been serving a lot harder this tournament than since I've come back from my back injury,” Williams said. “I couldn't really serve that hard at the U.S. Open this summer. It's a huge part of my game and to have that is exciting.”

The serve was a nice bonus, but it was Williams' determination and elevated physical condition that eventually got her past a very competitive youngster in Bouchard.

“It makes you feel good to play against a quality opponent and come out the winner at the end,” Williams said. “I was definitely really impressed with how she played.”

Bouchard is having a breakout year on tour, and despite falling behind a set and a break in the early going, she put forth an extremely determined effort in the second set and eventually took it in the tiebreaker. The Canadian had never notched a top 50 victory before 2013, but she already has seven of those this season, including four against top 20 opposition.

Though Williams is currently ranked 63 in the world, she is a former No. 1 with seven Grand Slam titles under her belt, and she played at the level of such a player during the third set on Thursday.

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Finally healthy after an injury-plagued period that saw her first diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome two years ago, then suffer the chronic lower back issues this season, Williams has patrolled the baseline in Tokyo with a reckless abandon that has not been seen in several years.

In 2013, she has resembled the Williams of old only in stretches. But this week in Tokyo she has done it on four consecutive evenings.

Should we now shelve all calls for her retirement? Williams doesn't care about that. “You know there's a lot of people out there who talk this, that and the other, but they never really played that well. My whole thing is I have played well and I can play well, so I just really focus on me and I realize I have to believe in me. I can't worry about somebody else believing in me.”

With Bouchard seemingly holding all the momentum early in the deciding set after saving four break points while down 3-4 in the second set, then taking the tiebreaker convincingly, Williams ratcheted up her game to take an early 3-1 lead then fought through several trying games to earn a double-break lead and a 5-2 advantage.

But Bouchard, ever resilient, broke serve on her third break point to close to 5-3. With Williams holding match point, the Canadian hit a dazzling crosscourt backhand winner to prolong the battle, but on the next point, Williams would break through for the soul-quenching victory.

Williams will bid for a spot in the finals when she faces Petra Kvitova in Friday's semifinals in Tokyo.


 

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