Serena Williams is wary of the threat posed by Ekaterina Makarova in their semi-final match at the US Open on Friday.
The world number one booked her place in the last four at Flushing Meadows by beating Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday evening, and she is now two wins away from winning her sixth and third consecutive US Open title.
The 32-year-old will be the overwhelming favourite going into the match against the Russian, who will be playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final, after beating 16th seed Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-2 in an earlier match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It will be a surprise if top seed Williams does not win the title again this year, as there are no other players from the top eight seeds left in the competition, with 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki being the highest ranked player behind Williams left in the draw.
A tough opponent
But the 17-time Grand Slam winner is not taking anything for granted as she prepares to play Makarova for the fifth time, having won three of their previous four matches.
The American told the US Open’s official website: “Makarova moves well. She doesn't care who she plays, she gives 100%. Those types of players are often difficult to play because it makes them better.
“She's has a great backhand and she's improved her forehand. It's going to be interesting for me to do the best that I can, because, you know, she has a lot of momentum going into this match as well.”
Despite remaining at the top of the world rankings, it has been a difficult year for Williams so far in Grand Slams, as she had not reached the quarter-finals in all three previous majors in 2014, including a shock second round exit at the hands of Spain’s Garbine Muguruza at the French Open in May.
It's a joke
But that left Williams with a sense of relaxation going into her home Grand Slam, as it allowed her to play with less pressure after lowering her expectations.
“Well, it's so easy now because it's almost a joke for me because I have done little to no winning in the majors.
“And now I thought, ‘take it as a joke. Oh, my God, I'm past the fourth round. I better play doubles just in case I don't make it past the second round. At least I have a backup plan.’”
“I think that definitely has been able to help me to relax, as well, and also realising that I don't have to win anymore. Everything now is just extra.”
There were doubts at one stage about her participation at the US Open, after she retired from a Wimbledon doubles match with what some thought to be a virus, and she was bedridden for the following three days.
But she has been in fine form since her return to action at the end of July, winning tournaments in Stanford and Cincinnati, and she is yet to lose a set in New York.
Makarova is ranked 17 places below her opponent in 18th, but the 26-year-old has in fact enjoyed more success than her opponent in Grand Slams in 2014, as she advanced one round further in the French Open before reaching her first Wimbledon quarter-final a month later, where she was beaten by Czech Lucie Safarova.
The Moskow-born player has already showed in the tournament that she is not intimidated by higher ranked players, as before beating Azarenka she also defeated seventh seeded Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round.
The match is scheduled to be played third on Ashe, and will be the second semi-final after Wozniacki plays the unseeded Chinese player Shuai Peng.
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