The expected world No. 1 vs. world No. 2 party got crashed on Thursday night at the US Open.
For world No. 1 Serena Williams, crashed and burned.
Williams in the US Open semifinals saw the No. 1 ranking slip from her grasp when she was served and hit off the court 6-2, 7-6(5) by No. 10 seed Karolina Pliskova, who showed Williams why she is the ace leader currently on the WTA tour.
In a match where Serena seemed too eager to press her strengths early, overhitting on serves and groundstrokes, Pliskova kept her composure. The world No. 1 on the other hand wore the stress of the match on her face almost from the start — anguished, nervous and angry all at the same time at her inability to get on top of the big-hitting, lanky 6-foot-1 Pliskova.
On match point, after missing the first serve, it seemed almost inevitable she would dump the second serve in the net — perhaps why her swing and racquet speed slowed and instead she sent the serve sailing long, double-faulting out of the US Open.
“I was not 100 percent,” said Williams, saying she suffered a “serious left knee injury” earlier in the tournament. “My mind was elsewhere — you are thinking of other things. I was making errors on simple and simple shots, just blame that on thinking on my leg.”
But with the excuses, Serena said she would not make excuses, and that her long three-set quarterfinal with Simona Halep played no part in the loss.
“Fatigue had nothing to do with it,” said Williams. “Being a professional, if I am not able to recover, I am not going to make excuses.”
Williams’ 186 weeks at the top of the rankings will come to an end when the new WTA rankings are released the Monday following the US Open, when German Angelique Kerber will take the top spot for the first time. The six-time US Open winner Williams was trying to win a 23rd grand slam title which would have broken her tie with Steffi Graf for most in the Open Era.
Kerber, this year’s Australian Open champion, took the court knowing the No. 1 ranking was hers, running out to a 4-0 lead in her semifinal against former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki before wrapping up the victory 6-4, 6-3.
“It’s just incredible, it’s a great day,” said Kerber. “To be here in the final for the first time means a lot and to be No. 1 in the world — it sounds amazing.”
Kerber’s opponent in the final, Pliskova is now on an 11-match winning streak after entering the tournament on the heels of winning Cincinnati.
“I don’t believe it,” said Pliskova, who never before surpassed the third round of a slam, after beating Williams. “I knew I had the chance to beat anyone if I played my game. I am excited to be in the final and to beat Serena as she is such a great champion. Even when she was down a set and break she was still fighting. I had to fight hard to win.”
In the end Pliskova became the eighth player to beat both Williams sisters at the same tournament, and Kerber will become the 22nd player to attain the No. 1 ranking, and only the second German in the top spot.
“For me, it’s just amazing to be after Steffi [Graf] the next No. 1 player in Germany,” said Kerber. “Steffi’s a great player and a great person, and I think she’s proud of me, to be the next one after her.”
The final won’t be unfamiliar territory for Kerber or Pliskova, who will be meeting for the eighth time on tour.
Kerber leads the head-to-head 4-3. Their last meeting was less than three weeks ago when Pliskova denied Kerber what would have been a No. 1-ranking-attaining win in the Cincinnati final. There the Czech steamrolled a tired Kerber, who had just come from a Silver medal run at the Rio Olympics, 6-3, 6-1.
“We played a lot of times,” Pliskova says of Kerber. “I lost to her; I won. So I will be ready for anything. That’s a final of a grand slam, so anything is possible. Of course, probably nerves from both sides. We both have a good chance to win. But I will just do anything to win the title here.”
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