Ekaterina Makarova rare lefthander in women's semifinal

Russia's Ekaterina Makarova hits a forehand against Victoria Russia's Ekaterina Makarova hits a forehand against Victoria Azarenka during their quarterfinal match at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Sept. 3, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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This is a lefthanded compliment.

Ekaterina Makarova will play in her first Grand Slam semifinal Friday when she takes the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium to face two-time defending champion Serena Williams.

In the Open Era of tennis dating to 1968, there have been only four lefthanded Grand Slam women's champions: the great Martina Navratilova, the scampering two-hander Monica Seles, the two-time and current Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and Ann Haydon Jones, the winner at Wimbledon in 1969.

So Makarova has a chance to do something special, and she already has. This will be her first semifinal appearance in 29 Grand Slam tournaments dating to 2007. She also has a chance to beat 17-time major tournament winner Williams in a Slam, though that is something she already has done. In four meetings, Makarova's one win over Williams was at the Australian Open in 2012.

"She's a great and tough player, yeah?" Makarova said the other day. "But once I beat her already, so I have great memory. I have a great feeling of that match."

Makarova is the only lefty to beat Williams in a Slam. Lefties force a righthanded player to think a little differently because the direction and spin of the serves will be opposite that of a righty, and if you are trying to play to a weakness in groundstrokes, the lefty's forehand and backhand are on the opposite sides of a righthanded player.

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Williams has beaten two lefties in this tournament, Taylor Townsend in the first round and Varvara Lepchenko in the third. While lefties can be confusing, Williams relishes that lefthanded experience.

"I have played two lefties already and I often practice with Varvara," Williams said. "She's a lefty. I think that's been good for me, so I'm ready for the lefty."

The lefty Makarova has made a pretty good career out of swinging from the opposite side. She's inside the top 20 in the world this year based on her second career win and a strong showing in the Slams that included a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon. She is closing in on the top 10 with this Open performance, her best ranking ever.

The other two semifinalists are trying to do something they've never done. Despite winning 22 tournaments, Caroline Wozniacki never has won a Grand Slam title, even at No. 1 in the world in 2010. Peng Shuai never has won a tournament at the WTA level but has arrived in the Open semis without losing a set. Williams and Makarova haven't lost any, either, and Wozniacki has lost only two, one to Maria Sharapova in the women's match of the tournament so far.

Of the four protagonists, Makarova has the distinction of being the lefty. Occasionally, even she thinks it makes her special.

"I don't think that I'm doing something unusual," she said. "Maybe someone different, some other person can say that I'm doing some crazy things. I'm just so happy I'm a lefty and the one in the family lefty. Sometimes when [I] start to write, 'Wow, you are lefty, like something different.' ''

Being lefty even elicits a little envy from Williams.

"I always ask my dad why wasn't I a lefty," Williams said. "Even when I was younger, I wanted to be a lefty. I could have been really good . . . Lefties are so cool. I just love lefties."

Now that's a real lefthanded compliment.

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