Indian Wells, United States (AFP) - Elena Vesnina denied Venus Williams another great escape, beating the seven-time Grand Slam champion 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 on Thursday to reach the semi-finals at Indian Wells.
As Williams shook off a lethargic start and began to apply some pressure, Vesnina kept her poise, finishing off the contest on her fourth match point after fending off six break points in the final game.
Vesnina will play Kristina Mladenovic for a place in the final after Mladenovic's 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 victory over former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
"When I was up three-love in the first set she was missing some easy shots," Vesnina said of Williams. "She looked tired and slow on the court. Then, all of a sudden, she started moving around, hitting great shots, winners from all over the place.
"I kind of lost my rhythm, because I didn't know what to expect."
After the match Williams acknowledged some physical "issues" that had troubled her throughout the tournament, although she declined to elaborate.
"I had some issues," said the American, who played on Thursday with one thigh bandaged, but without the right arm bandage she sported in previous rounds.
"It's great to know that I can try to play through what I'm going through and be very competitive," she said. "I will try my best to be closer to 100 per cent in the next tournament."
Whatever her troubles, when Williams levelled the match at a set apiece, Vesnina couldn't help recalling that the American had saved three match points in her second-round victory over Jelena Jankovic.
"I was like, 'Uh-Oh, it's coming back again. I'm going to be another victim of Venus," Vesnina said.
Williams, who ended a 15-year boycott of the event last year but lost her opening match, was in pursuit of a first Indian Wells title.
The 36-year-old star did indeed save three match points against her own serve in the eighth game of the third set - a game that went to deuce six times before Williams held with a blistering forehand winner.
She appeared poised to pull back a service break when she raced to a 0-40 lead on Vesnina's serve in the next game, but Vesnina dug in.
A lucky net cord bounce and two backhand errors from Williams got it to deuce, but she would have three more break chances before an ecstatic Vesnina sealed it with a forehand winner.
"I was actually very proud of myself, how I held my nerve," Vesnina said. "I was 0-40 down, but I didn't even think about that it's 0-40. It was point by point, trying to create a good rally, trying to move her around.
"I stuck to this game - I was really fighting like it's the last game of my life."
Vesnina, a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, reached the semi-finals of an elite Premier Mandatory level tournament for the first time, as did the in-form Mladenovic - whose season so far has included a first career title in St Petersburg and a runners-up finish in Acapulco this month.