Ekaterina Makarova has gotten to a place she's never been before.
Serena Williams has gotten to that same place, but it's like a second home.
Makarova advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open with a convincing 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Victoria Azarenka yesterday afternoon. That was followed by Williams' 6-3, 6-2 win over Flavia Pennetta in the night match.
For the first time in her eight-year Grand Slam career, Makarova is in the semis, which extends her best season. She was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, made the fourth round at the Australia Open and the third at the French. She also won her second WTA Tour-level tournament.
The 26-year-old Russian is starting to believe that she belongs on the upper rungs of the tennis ladder, though she has had a very nice career that includes five doubles titles.
"Yes, because I played quarter in Wimbledon and really believed that at U.S. Open I can do my best result," Makarova said. "I felt that I'm ready."
She had to be ready for Azarenka, the runner-up to Williams in the last two Opens and twice a Grand Slam champion at the Australian. After Azarenka broke her in the fifth game of the first set, Makarova broke right back in a game where she failed to convert her first two break points and allowed Azarenka to get an ad point. But Azarenka double-faulted for deuce and Makarova hit two winners for the break.
The second game of the second set seemed crucial. With Azarenka serving, Makarova ran out to a 40-0 lead, then Azarenka stormed back for deuce. Makarova held another break point that Azarenka canceled and she held serve. It could have given Azarenka a foothold in the match, though it turned out to be the start of a slippery slope.
"I remember that game," Makarova said. "I didn't get nervous because she played so good all of those points. I just stayed calmly in my game." And went on to win handily.
The Williams-Pennetta match started bizarrely with Pennetta challenging the first point, a return of serve that replay showed was in. Williams was foot-faulted on her next serve and went on to be broken in the first game. Pennetta broke her again in the third game for a 3-0 lead. Then Williams won six straight games to take the first set. Pennetta put up a brief challenge at the start of the second set, but Williams' power was just too much.
This is familiar territory for Williams, though she hasn't had the best Grand Slam season. Williams is the two-time defending champion and holds 17 major titles, but she reached a Slam semifinal for the first time this year. It's her 19th straight win at the Open.
Williams and Makarova will find common ground tomorrow when they meet in the semifinals.