Simona Halep

Serena Williams marked another milestone Wednesday, punching her semi-final ticket at the Miami Masters with her 700th career match win, a 7-6 (7/4), 1-6, 6-3 triumph over Sabine Lisicki.

Williams will face a familiar foe for a place in the final, taking on popular Romanian Simona Halep, a 6-1, 7-5 winner over Sloane Stephens.

World number one Williams became the eighth player to win 700 WTA matches. Martina Navratilova owns the most match wins, with 1,442.

“I didn’t know I had 700, now I just want to keep going, doing the best that I can,” said the 33-year-old American, who was feted with a cake from tournament organizers after the victory.

“(I’m) just staying positive and winning as much as I can,” added Williams, who grabbed her 19th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this year.

Third-seeded Halep dominated Stephens, racing to a 6-1, 3-0 lead before the American dug in. Stephens won five of the next six games to take a 5-4 lead in the second but couldn’t force a third set.

“I’m really happy I played like this, it was an amazing match for me,” Halep said. “I played my best till 3-0 in the second set, and then I lost the rhythm a little bit. 

“She changed the tactic and it was more difficult for me to hit the ball. But I’m really happy that I could finish in two sets and to stay focused until the end.”

Halep has some history with Williams. The Romanian is the last woman to beat the US superstar on the WTA tour, humbling the world number one 6-0, 6-2 in the round robin phase of the WTA Finals in Singapore in October.

Williams rebounded quickly — beating Halep 6-3, 6-0 in the final days later.

“I have just to play aggressive against Serena like I did today at the beginning the match,” Halep said. “I think this is the most important thing to have to the chance against her.”

Williams and Halep were to have faced off in the semi-finals at Indian Wells a fortnight ago, but Williams withdrew from the match with a knee injury.

– Halep in form –

Halep went on to win the biggest title of her career in the premier level tournament in the California desert.

The Romanian owns a WTA-leading three titles this season.

Against her, Williams will have to avoid the kind of lapses that made the going difficult against Lisicki.

Williams, seeking a third straight Miami title and her eighth overall, fought off a set point in the opening set, breaking Lisicki’s serve to force the tiebreaker.

Williams looked to be on her way when she broke Lisicki in the first game of the second set, but Lisicki reeled off the next six games to claim the set as Williams’ unforced errors ballooned.

Williams regained her concentration, grabbing an early break in the third en route to the victory in just over two hours.

“I know today wasn’t my best day,” Williams said. “I just told myself, I’m not serving the way I normally serve and hitting the way I normally would hit, so at this point all I can do is just fight and try to give 200 percent instead of 100 percent.

“Obviously I don’t want to lose, or at least I want to try to do the best I can.

“She had a lot of momentum going into the third set after winning the second. I wanted to just stay strong and basically really wanted to hold serve.” –  Agence France-Presse

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