Williams, Osaka reach US Open semis
Written by Taiwo Adediran on September 10, 2020
Serena Williams kept alive her hopes of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title with a 4-6 6-3 6-2 win over Tsvetana Pironkova in the US Open quarter-finals.
The American six-time champion, 38, struggled early on with the variety of shots from the unranked player who was in her first tournament in three years.
Pironkova tired as Williams took the second and broke twice in the third.
The veteran will now play former world number one Victoria Azarenka, whom she beat in the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals.
Like in her third-round match against Sloane Stephens, Williams made a slow start which Pironkova exploited on longer rallies and with her dangerous sliced forehand. The break seemed inevitable and came in the fifth game when the Bulgarian – a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2010 – hit a great double-handed backhand winner.
There were signs Williams was improving towards the end of that set, and although she did go a break down early in the second set, the American levelled immediately and then had break point in the following Pironkova service game.
That was saved, but the former world number 31 lost her serve again when she was out-thought and outplayed in the eighth game, decided by an error following a phenomenal 26-shot rally. Her more decorated opponent raised her arm and let out a cry of celebration and relief inside the near empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
By this stage, Pironkova’s points won on her first and second serves had dropped from 87% and 70%, respectively, down to 47% and 55% and the unforced errors were up from five to 10. It seemed the exertions of the near three-hour three-set match against Alize Cornet in the previous round were beginning to take their toll.
Williams also experienced a three-set contest in her last-16 match, but her stamina appeared to increase as this match went on. She broke twice more in the third set and booked her place in the semi-final with a game to love, which contained her 20th ace.
Williams said she could not afford another sluggish start if she is to reach her fifth Grand Slam final in three years.
“I was feeling it a little in my legs and an hour in, for some reason, I got more energy. I can’t do that if I want to keep winning,” said the American, who last won the US Open in 2014.
“I play again on Thursday. I am used to playing back to back to back, but I need to figure out how to start a little bit faster.
“I keep fighting, I never give up. You’ve got to keep going.”
Earlier in the day, fourth seed Naomi Osaka claimed a US Open semi-final spot, overpowering world number 93 Shelby Rogers in straight sets.
American Rogers, 27, had upset sixth seed Petra Kvitova in the fourth round but could not match an almost flawless performance from Japan’s 2018 champion.
The 22-year-old will face American 28th seed Jennifer Brady in the semi-finals.
Brady, 25, reached the last four at a Grand Slam for the first time by beating Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 6-3 6-2.
“I feel pretty good,” said Osaka, who wore a face mask with George Floyd’s name on it in her on-court interview as she continues to raise awareness of racial injustice.
“The scoreline might not suggest it but I’ve had a couple of really hard matches that made me really grateful to be in this position.”
Osaka had lost to Rogers in straight sets in their past three meetings, but the last of these came in 2017 and she looked in imperious form from the outset on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 2019 Australian Open champion dropped just two points in her first three service games and her relentlessly high level eventually became too much for Rogers.
The American saved one break point in the sixth game but drove a backhand long to lose a second.
A double fault from Osaka opened the door for Rogers in the next game and the lower-ranked player took the opportunity to break back with a superb forehand return.
It was only the fourth time Osaka has been broken in this year’s tournament and she looked undisturbed as she whipped a forehand cross-court to immediately repay the favour.
Another booming forehand from the world number nine forced Rogers’ backhand wide to wrap up the first set in 38 minutes.
Rogers was undeterred and continued to fight early in the second set but a lapse in concentration gave Osaka break point and the former champion took the lead as the American’s backhand sailed wide.
The two-time Grand Slam winner continued to make seemingly unreachable shots, sprinting forwards to pick up Rogers’ drop-shot and claim her second hold to love of the set.
A third hold to love sealed Osaka’s place in the final four, as Rogers brought her first US Open quarter-final to an end with a forehand into the net.
“I just felt like she had the upper hand because I’ve never beaten her and those memories are stuck in my head,” Osaka added.
“I consider this a little bit of a revenge.”