Errani may need a little magic to defeat Serena

Prim Siripipat and Mary Jo Fernandez discuss how the top-ranked women's tennis player in the world, Victoria Azarenka, appears to fly under the radar.

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- She calls her new racket Excalibur, and No. 10 seed Sara Errani will need its magic to beat her U.S. Open semifinal opponent -- the seemingly unstoppable Serena Williams.

Leon Neal/AFP/GettyImages

Sara Errani has had a breakout season since changing her racket.

This has been a breakout year for Errani, who has piercing blue eyes and a 5-foot-4 muscular frame. The Italian had never advanced past the third round at a Grand Slam in prior years, but this season she reached the final at the French Open and quarters at the Australian Open.

"She's playing well, I mean, the finals of Roland Garros and now semis here, potentially finals," Williams said. "I can't underestimate her. It's not by luck she's been doing so well."

As they have exited the U.S. Open in the past two weeks, women such as Ana Ivanovic and Kim Clijsters have been asked who the favorite is. Nearly all have named No. 4 Williams.

"I have to say, I think she's the favorite to go on and win," defending champion Samantha Stosur said.

But the USTA isn't cutting the championship check yet. Williams plays Errani in the second women's semifinal at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday. In the first, No. 3 Maria Sharapova takes on No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

Three of the four semifinalists have won a major this year. Azarenka opened the season with a 26-match winning streak that included the Australian Open title. Maria Sharapova won the French Open and Williams earned the Wimbledon title before taking Olympic gold.

Errani, who has worked her way into the top 10 after finishing last season ranked No. 45 in the world, will have to deal with a serve that has been vexing for Williams' opponents. But the Italian has her new racket -- the Babolat Pure Drive 2012. She had to pay a reported $30,000, "not a small amount of money" to extricate herself from a contract she had with another racket company, Wilson, to get her hands on it.

"It was a bit longer and has more power," Errani said at the New Haven Open. "Before, it was not easy for me. I'm not very tall, so it's important for me to make as much power as possible, because there are many players who hit the ball very strong. So I found a solution that was helping me on the forehand serve."

She and fellow Italian Roberta Vinci are the No. 1 doubles team on the WTA Tour. They have reached the doubles final at the U.S. Open.

Errani has never beaten Williams, but all three of their previous matches came before the racket switch, which in some ways is designed to counter Williams' kind of game.

Williams, who has won three U.S. Open championships including her last in 2008, has a 63-9 record here, fourth all-time behind Chris Evert (101-12), Martina Navratilova (89-17) and Steffi Graf (73-9).

But Errani can't think about those stats on Friday afternoon.

"I'm in the semifinal for something," Errani said. "I'm playing good, so I have to just go on the court and try to make my game as best as I can."

Something the racket with the mythical name has been invaluable in helping with.

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