-- PARIS -- A few years before her first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal, Timea Bacsinszky was washing dishes in restaurants while considering a career in hotel management.
"I don't know if it really helps me for my forehand or for my backhand,'' Bacsinszky said, "but it gives you also a lot of humility because there are many people in this world who are working in restaurants, hotels, in the kitchen, who are making our beds in hotels, as well. ... It was just to be once treated as someone normal. I mean, not all the time to have those VIP passes.''
Meanwhile, her semifinal opponent, Serena Williams, has been ranked No. 1 for 120 consecutive weeks (and 243 total) dating back to February of 2013. And Williams says she has never considered leaving tennis.
"There are times where you don't want to go practice, but I always push through that,'' she said. "I have been unfortunate to have some bad injuries that gave me breaks that I probably needed at the time. So fortunately enough I have been able to be OK with continuing to play tennis for 60, 70 years.''
Given the differences in career success, what are the chances that the former dishwasher can polish off the best player in the world when they play Thursday in the semifinals of the French Open?
"I knew you would put this question to me,'' the 25-year-old Bacsinszky said. "In this case, she's the favorite. Serena has lots of titles under her belt. She can be a source of inspiration to many people, not only tennis players. But at the same time, I have a job to do.''
It's a job that won't be any easier than washing a kitchen full of dirty dishes and making beds on several floors of a hotel. (Although it will pay much, much better.)
Williams has won 19 Grand Slams and is gunning to win three in a row for the second time in her career. She is playing in the semifinals for the fourth time at the French Open. She won two of her previous three semifinals at Roland Garros, including on her way to the 2013 title. She has dropped only one match in her career to the three other players in the semifinals. Her competitive drive is as famous -- and strong --- as her serve.
Bacsinszky, meanwhile, had never reached beyond the third round of a major before this tournament. Not that she isn't highly competitive herself. When she was working in restaurant kitchens, she said, "I was trying also to clean the plates quicker than my colleague. Competition is something I have in my blood.''
Until whipping Sara Errani in straight sets and 65 minutes in Wednesday's quarterfinal, Williams had been struggling here. She had lost the first set in three consecutive matches, but, showing her usual tenacity, came back to win each one. She says the Errani match got her back on form.
Bacsinszky has been playing better, dropping only one set through the first five rounds. And that was to No. 4 Petra Kvitova, whom she then came back to beat 2-6, 6-0, 6-3.
Williams is 67-4 in her past 71 matches on clay. Bacsinszky has never won a clay-court tournament. Williams is 30-1 this year, winning in Miami and Australia. Bacsinszky is 32-6 and has won two tournaments this year -- Monterrey and Acapulco -- as well as reaching the finals in Shenzhen.
"She's had a really good year, so it's not going to be an easy match at all for me,'' Williams said.
Bacsinszky has never beaten Williams, losing to her this year in straight sets in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells and in straight sets on Rome's clay in 2010.
"It was a tight match, a very close one,'' Bacsinszky said of the Indian Wells match. "It was a new environment. I was playing the first time on center court of Indian Wells and had been playing 16 matches in a row. It was quite a lot, so I was less fresh than today.''
Williams has won almost $70 million in prize money and has numerous lucrative endorsement deals. Bacsinszky, meanwhile, has earned just over $2 million and says it is important to tip the maid and treat other workers kindly. For instance, the Swiss player said she made sure to bring some Raclette cheese for her physical therapist here.
"I think I'm maybe a better person with all those people [who] are also working behind the scenes,'' she said of the lessons learned in her hotel and restaurant work. "I guess I get less angry with ball boys or umpires or also the locker room attendants. They are super nice, and I guess only some players are just saying thank you.''
We will see whether Bacsinszky can overcome the enormous odds to upset the world's best player. Win or lose, though, it's got to end better than a day in a kitchen.