PARIS — Serena Williams' chest was heaving between points. Her footwork wasn't quite right. Miscue followed miscue, until she was a set and a break down in the French Open quarterfinals.
But as she so often does, Williams came through, moving closer to a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title by figuring out a way to beat Yulia Putintseva 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 Thursday.
"I kept missing. Just misfiring. Honestly, at one point I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel," the defending champion said. "I guess I was not the most positive mentally, but obviously I didn't want to stop."
How close was she to her earliest exit at a major since Wimbledon in 2014? Putintseva, who is from Kazakhstan and ranked 60th, twice was a point from serving for the biggest victory of her career.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to win that in the second set," said Williams, who faces another unseeded opponent, 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, in the semifinals today. "Somehow I did."
Putintseva, who at 21 is 13 years younger than Williams, scrambled to nearly every ball and threw her 5-foot-4 frame into deep groundstrokes. The turning point came at 4-all in the second set, when Putintseva held two break points. Convert either and she would have been ahead 5-4 and serving for the match.
"The match was very close — and very far — from being on my side," Putintseva said.
Williams overcame not only a relentless competitor in Putintseva but also her own shakiness on a cloudy, chilly day that included a brief rain delay.
"The rallies were very long and very tough," said Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who used to work with Putintseva. "She is not used to (this) in matches. Usually after four, five shots, the point is over."
And Williams must put in more work today against Bertens, who like Putintseva has a tendency to extend points.
There is no rest for the weary at this wet-as-can-be French Open. If Williams gets to Saturday's final, it will be her fourth consecutive day of play. The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, already will reach that total — Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, today — when he meets No. 13 Dominic Thiem in their semifinal.
"The way that the schedule has been going on in the second week," Djokovic said, "(there) is not much time to really reflect on what you have done."
The other men's semifinal is Andy Murray against defending champion Stan Wawrinka. Their quarterfinals were Wednesday.
Djokovic beat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Thiem ousted David Goffin 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 6-1.
The most noteworthy moment of Djokovic's victory: Angered by missing a shot, he tried to spike his racket, but it flew out of his right hand and sailed not far from where a line judge stood. Djokovic was issued a warning.
"I was lucky there," he said.