Serena Williams took a step closer to drawing level with Steffi Graf's haul of 22 grand slam titles after reaching the French Open final with a polished display to see off Dutchwomen Kiki Bertens in straight sets in Paris. The American will face Garbine Muguruza in the final on Saturday [3 June] after completing a 7-6 6-4 win, but not without alarm.
Bertens, playing her first major semi-final, missed two opportunities to take the opening set before Williams grabbed the initiative in an extraordinary tiebreaker, which she took 9-7. The 24-year-old was into the ascendency at the start of the second set too, taking a break for a 3-2 lead but Williams rediscovered her best form to take four of the next five games to complete a victory which was not without further questions over her fitness.
Williams was playing her third match in as many days and was feeling the after-effects of the two-hour win over Yulia Putintseva 24 hours previously, even struggling to close out the contest after taking her fourth match-point. She also had treatment for an apparent abductor strain.
"It has been very difficult," she said. "All I was telling myself was that I need to find ways to play better because Kiki was playing so well. I am so happy right now. I need to find some corners inside me that can relieve all the stress. I hope to have the support of the crowd because it is so important to me and makes such a difference."
No player has defended the title on the French clay since Justine Henin won three straight crowns between 2005 and 2007, and if Williams wish to enter the history books she must overcome 2015 Wimbledon runner-up Muguruza. The Spaniard easily beat Australian Sam Stosur 6-2 6-4 to reach her second major final in less than 12 months.