PARIS • Serena Williams kept alive her hopes of making Grand Slam history in Paris yesterday, but she was again well below her best in a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 French Open semi-final win over Kiki Bertens.
For the second straight day, the 34-year-old American tennis player looked out of sorts and at times exasperated before finally clawing her way back to stay alive.
She will play Garbine Muguruza in today's final with the prize for her being a 22nd Grand Slam title, equalling the Open-era record set by Steffi Graf in Paris in 1999.
Muguruza underlined her fine form with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Australia's Samantha Stosur.
Later, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic cantered into the men's final by crushing flat Austrian tyro Dominic Thiem 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, moving closer to the only Grand Slam title missing from his collection.
"The first set was not simple, but she was playing so well," Williams said. "I need to keep my calm for the final and hope the fans will be with me."
Garbine Muguruza will be playing in her first final at Roland Garros.
It was another ponderous start from the three-time winner against her 58th-ranked opponent, losing the first three points of the match and dropping her serve.
Bertens, who had never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament before this French Open, went 2-0 up before Williams opened her account.
The cold, damp conditions were similar to Thursday and the atmosphere was muted on a less-than-half full Philippe Chatrier centre court. Williams was having trouble returning the Bertens serve and she had to save break points of her own to avoid falling further behind.
The Dutch player, who appeared to be having trouble with an injury to her left calf muscle, failed to convert a set point at 5-3.
Williams, who survived a first-set scare for the second day running, saved two set points before winning the tie-break.
The drama continued in the second set, when Williams was broken again to trail 0-2. But she broke straight back and conceded just two more games to reach the final.
The showpiece against Muguruza will be the American's fourth match in as many days due to the bad weather that has dogged Roland Garros this week.
Fourth seed Muguruza became the first Spanish woman in 16 years to reach the French Open final, after Conchita Martinez, who lost to Mary Pierce in 2000.
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was the last Spanish women's champion in 1998.
"Emotions can sometimes be bad when you make a final," said the 22-year-old, who will be playing in just her second Grand Slam final after her loss to Williams at Wimbledon last year.
"Sometimes you just have to stay calm, prepare yourself as best you can and play with no regrets."
The Venezuelan-born Muguruza raced into a 4-0 lead against Stosur and swept the first set in 32 minutes.
There was no let-up in the second set as she broke early and played confidently to prevail over the 2010 runner-up.
Day 14: Singtel TV Ch114/115 & StarHub Ch208/209, 8.30pm