PARIS — Serena Williams has made a habit of digging deep on the red clay at Roland Garros.
Friday afternoon the world No. 1 and defending champion found herself in a hole once again, this time against a 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens, playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal. But Williams, playing in her 31st major semi, fought her way through, and is into the French Open final with a 7-6(7), 6-4 effort over the 24-year-old Dutchwoman.
Williams came from a set behind to win on Thursday in the quarterfinals against another unheralded foe, world No. 60 Yulia Putintseva.
Saturday she’ll be tasked with an in-form top-5 opponent, however, as No. 4 Garbiñe Muguruza took out Sam Stosur in Friday’s other semifinal.
Williams can’t rely on her gritty best against Muguruza, who handed Williams her worst-ever loss at a major at this tournament two years ago, the Spaniard winning 6-2, 6-2. Since then, Williams won their clash in the Wimbledon final, which marked Muguruza’s first Grand Slam final appearance.
It’s also the last major Williams won, the 34-year-old American still chasing Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 major titles, having come up short at the U.S. Open and Australian Open over the last nine months.
Williams won five three-set matches at the French Open to get to the title last year, her third. She is 60-11 after her Friday win and moves to 24-3 on the year, having won her first trophy of 2016 in Rome three weeks ago.
Bertens had been to the second week of a Grand Slam just once before in her career, at the 2014 French Open, and was the first unseeded semifinalist on the women’s side since 2003, when Nadia Petrova made it that far. Williams snapped Bertens’ 12-match winning streak.
Dutch media reported Bertens’ left calf was heavily taped from an injury, though her leg was covered on a chilly day in Paris (temperatures hovered around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) in leggings.
Williams vs. Muguruza is the first repeat final on the women’s side since Williams played Maria Sharapova here in the 2013 final, and then again for the Australian Open trophy in 2015.