-- PARIS -- Serena Williams walked onto Court Philippe Chatrier as the stadium announcer introduced her Wednesday afternoon. And this time, it was the real Serena Williams who showed up for that first set. No embarrassingly sluggish start. No falling drastically behind. No worries that the world's top player and 19-time Grand Slam champ was living on the edge of a cliff and in any danger of bidding au revoir to Paris.
"I definitely felt more in control, and I felt I had to be again going up against a player that plays well on this surface in particular,'' Williams said after whipping Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3 in their quarterfinal match. "I had only one option, and that was to gain control of myself, my emotions and my game.''
Williams had dropped the first set of her previous three matches here and described her play as unprofessional. Monday, she said she needed to get back off the edge and play her game. She did Wednesday and said that what helped was having played a very close match against Errani at the Fed Cup in April.
Williams was 7-0 against Errani entering that Fed Cup match, but as has been the case too often here this tournament, she fell behind early. Errani served for the match when leading 5-4 in the second set before Williams rallied to win: "She gave me the match of my life last time,'' Williams said
"I think the difference was being able to play that [Fed Cup] match,'' Williams said. "I feel if I had not played that match, I probably would still be out there fighting right now. She changed her game against me, and I knew what to expect this time.''
Williams said that Errani has become more aggressive and hits a better groundstroke than in the past. But that isn't enough when Williams is on top of her game. Consider the contrast in serves. Despite nursing a sore right elbow, Williams has recorded the fastest serve this French Open at 126 mph. The woman at the bottom of the serve board? Errani at 87 mph.
"The power is, of course, a big thing,'' Errani said. "She's serving so strong. And then the baseline hitting is so strong, so it's difficult to play.''
Apparently so. Williams served 10 aces; Errani had none. She also had 39 winners compared to Errani's nine. You could also see the difference in power by where the players set up for returns. Williams would take a couple steps inside the baseline during Errani's serves.
Thus, Wednesday's match was much more similar to the one Williams and Errani played here in 2013 than that close Fed Cup meeting. Williams dispatched Errani 6-0, 6-1 in just 46 minutes in that tournament, and she whipped Errani 6-1 in a 27-minute first set Wednesday. The second set took longer -- 38 minutes -- and Errani led 3-2 at one point, but Williams took control to break the Italian twice to win. The match took just 65 minutes, or about an hour less than it took to beat Sloane Stephens on Monday.
After beating Errani here in 2013, Williams went on to win the French Open. She looks poised to do so again. Her next hurdle is Timea Bacsinszky in Thursday's semifinal.
"She's had a really good year, so it's not going to be an easy match at all for me,'' Williams said. "I need to come out strong again. Most of all, I need to relax. If I win, great. If I lose, I want to be able to do the best that I can do. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I'm surprised I'm still in the tournament, so this is really cool for me.''
If she continue to play as she did Wednesday, rather than the way she did in her earlier matches, the surprise will be if she doesn't stay in the tournament until winning the final point.