Serena Williams of the US celebrates her victory against Britain’s Johanna Konta in their women’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAEED KHAN /
Serena Williams brushed aside Britain’s Johanna Konta to set up an Australian Open semi-final with an emotional Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on Wednesday — 19 years after they last met as fellow teenage prodigies.
The American great overcame a misfiring serve to halt Konta’s nine-match winning streak 6-2, 6-3, staying on course for a potential all-Williams final with her sister Venus.
In the men’s draw, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov knocked out Belgian hope David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to earn a semi-final against Rafael Nadal or Canada’s Milos Raonic.
Williams, 35, has come a long way since her last meeting with Lucic-Baroni in the second round at Wimbledon in 1998, when they were both 16 and without a trophy to their names.
While Williams is now eyeing an Open-era-record 23rd Grand Slam title and a return to world number one, the Croatian is into her first major semi since 1999 after her career was derailed by personal trauma.
Unseeded Lucic-Baroni wept freely and gasped, “This has truly made my life,” after she upset Czech world number five Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
“I can’t believe this. This is crazy,” said the 34-year-old, who disappeared from the tennis scene after being forced to flee her abusive father.
“The only thing I can say is God is good. That’s all I can say. I can’t believe it. I feel a little bit in shock.”
Williams said she could take inspiration from Lucic-Baroni, against whom she will be the strong favourite in Thursday’s semi-finals.
– ‘Remarkable story’ –
“I’m really happy for Mirjana. I was there when she first started. To see her be able to never give up actually is super-inspiring to me. It’s a wonderful story,” she said.
Williams added: “Honestly, we have totally different games now, the both of us. We both have gone through a lot. We both have survived, and here we are, which I think is a really remarkable story.”
There was little disappointment from Konta despite her steamrollering by Williams, who was able to raise her game to counter her opponent’s court speed and aggressive striking.
Despite only 45 percent success with her first serves, Konta could only break once, in the second set, and Williams quickly hit back with two breaks of her own.
“I think it was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Konta, 25, who idolised Williams as a child.
“I think there’s so many things I can learn from that, so many things I can look to improve on, also acknowledge some things that I did well.”
Later, 15th seed Dimitrov soared into his second major semi-final with his straight-sets win over Goffin, his 10th victory in a row after his trophy run this month in Brisbane.
He will watch with interest as 14-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, 30, takes on 26-year-old world number three Raonic, who has made quiet progress as he seeks his first major title.