WIMBLEDON (CNN) - Serena Williams may have been out of the grand slam game for roughly 16 months as she started a family, but when her back is against the wall -- as one opponent put it last month -- the real Serena still comes out.
Severely tested for the first time this Wimbledon, Williams rallied to beat big-hitting Italian Camila Giorgi 3-6 6-3 6-4 Tuesday to move to within two matches of a record-tying 24th grand slam title.
"Sometimes I feel, 'Man, I'm in trouble,'" said Williams. "Sometimes I feel, 'I can fight.' For whatever reason, today I was so calm. Even when I was down the first set, I thought, 'Well, she's playing great.' I'm doing a lot of the right things."
It would be a first grand slam title as a mum -- or should that be second, given the American was in the early stages of pregnancy while claiming the Australian Open in 2017? She gave birth to daughter Olympia last September.
Her next test comes in the form of 13th-seed Julia Goerges, while twice grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and 2017 French Open titlist Jelena Ostapenko tangle in the other semifinal.
"I think everything right now is a little bit of a surprise," said Williams, ranked 181st but awarded a special seeding of 25th due to her Wimbledon and overall pedigree . "To be here, to be in the semifinals. I mean, I always say I plan on it, I would like to be there, have these goals. But when it actually happens, it still is, like, 'Wow, this is really happening.'"
Ostapenko not surprised
Ostapenko isn't surprised by Williams' success this fortnight.
"She's such a talented player," said the Latvian. "I think she can do anything. It's not a surprise that after a baby she's back and she's playing great tennis again."
Williams was forced to withdraw from the fourth round of the French Open last month in her grand slam return with a pectoral injury and admitted last week she still wasn't serving at full power or near the 120 mile per hour mark.
But the serve is certainly clicking now.
Giorgi, playing in her maiden major quarterfinal at her favorite grand slam, threatened an upset by winning the first set and led 30-0 on Williams' serve at 1-1 in the second. Her flat, booming ground strokes can befuddle the best of them and the world No. 52 was indeed flawless in the opener.
But from then on the seven-time champion lost only nine more points on serve and finished with three love holds -- Giorgi's rising error count contributed -- to make an 11th semifinal at the All England Club. Her fastest serve was clocked at 122 mph, a sign that the injury is much better.
"My arm is, like, amazing," said Williams.
Rapper friend Drake and fellow singer Justin Timberlake were among those rooting for her on Centre Court and Williams didn't discount another of her pals, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, showing up for Thursday's semifinals.
"Just stay tuned, right? Stay tuned for the next episode, Serena Williams Centre Court," she said.
Familiar foe in Goerges
The 36-year-old Williams beat Goerges at the French Open 6-3 6-4, prior to her withdrawal, with a fine serving display. Goerges came back in her match Tuesday, too, defeating Kiki Bertens 3-6 7-5 6-1 in her first grand slam quarterfinal at about the same time Williams' match ended.
Kerber and Ostapenko downed Daria Kasatkina 6-3 7-5 and Dominika Cibulkova 7-5 6-4, respectively. Those contests also finished almost simultaneously.
Goerges and Kerber have given Germany two semifinalists at the same grand slam for the first time since Steffi Graf and Anke Huber at Roland Garros in 1993.
Goerges owns a potent serve and a grand slam breakthrough had been coming: Since the start of 2017, the 29-year-old has appeared in seven finals on three different surfaces.
Topping Williams would take her Wimbledon exploits to another level.
"She has won so many titles here, not only here, a lot of grand slams beside Wimbledon," said Goerges. "Well, it's a great opportunity for me to meet her at that stage. It's an honor to share the court with her.
"But I will sort out some tactics with my team tomorrow and we'll be ready for Thursday."
Kerber is stringing together an impressive season after a 2017 campaign she would like to forget. Weighed down by both pressure and expectation following a glittering 2016, the former No. 1 didn't make a grand slam quarterfinal.
This year, however, Kerber has landed in two grand slam semifinals and a quarterfinal at the French Open.
The left-hander only trailed once against entertainer Kasatkina -- at 1-0 in the second -- but had a difficult time closing out the 21-year-old Russian, needing seven match points in the final game.
That final game included a dazzling 25-shot rally won by Kerber at the net after Kasatkina got herself back into the point despite a slip. When they met in Eastbourne two weeks ago, Kerber needed a third-set tiebreak to prevail.
Blockbuster men's quarterfinal set
In the men's draw, Juan Martin del Potro completed a hard-fought fourth-round win over counter-puncher Gilles Simon 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-5) 5-7 7-6 (7-5). They were halted by darkness after three sets Monday, before the Argentine was forced to rally from 3-1 down in the fourth set and 3-1 in the tiebreak.
He will meet Rafael Nadal at a grand slam for the second time in a matter of weeks after he eased past del Potro in the French Open semifinals en route to his 17th major.
Nadal thus has the psychological advantage in Wednesday's blockbuster although it will be their first duel on grass since Wimbledon in 2011, the year the Spaniard last found himself in a quarterfinal at SW19.
Nadal and del Potro will play on Centre Court after Novak Djokovic's tussle with Kei Nishikori, with eight-time champion Roger Federer off Centre for the first time since 2015 when he battles US Open finalist Kevin Anderson.
"It will be a different match that we played in Paris few weeks ago," said del Potro, who has boosted his ranking to fourth after a string of wrist surgeries. "I will try to hold my service games most of the time.
"If I want to beat him, I have to come to the net very often and play hard with my forehands, with my backhands, and try to take all the chances."
Williams' chances at Wimbledon are looking good.
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