Serena Williams had to go three sets for a third straight match, and the 38-year-old came through to make her 11th straight US Open semifinals. The 6-time champion started out slow against fellow mother Tsvetana Pironkova but got going late in the second to cruise to a tougher-than-expected 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
The 32-year-old Pironokova survived an opened service barrage from Serena by settling in, mixing up her shots and serving well herself. She got a break and closed out the first set with confidence.
In the second, Serena started to get a read on the Bulgarian’s serve. But Pironkova, using slices and lobs, continued to frustrate Serena into errors. And on serve, twice Serena had to resort to return left-handed, and twice she won the point. And those would prove pivotal. Serena would break Pironkova to force a decider. And in the third, Serena had her ground stroke on point and she broke immediately to start. That’s all she needed.
“I think that was definitely a really important game, because I was able to break her,” Serena said of the first game of the third. “Although I was still holding serve, it would have been a different match serving at 5-4 as opposed to serving at 5-2. So it was really important.
Serena even addressed her usage of a left-handed forehand.
“At that point I was fighting so hard,” Sernea said of the second set. “I don’t know. Actually been hitting a little lefty in my practice but not on purpose. I noticed the other day, like, I hit a lefty shot and I was just in practice being super intense, and I guess it came through in the match.
“So when you’re in a position like that, and I was just trying to stay, this is the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, and I was just trying to do everything I can whether righty or lefty.”
Serena’s big serve also provided 20 aces.
“Sometimes when I’m serving, I just tell myself, I don’t care if my arm falls off, I’m going to keep serving,” she added. “And that’s the attitude I need to have. I didn’t know I hit 20 aces in this match until my coach told me after. So I was, like, Okay. For me it’s about serving the whole tournament.”
After not playing for over three years, what a tournament for Pironkova.
“Definitely the first set I think I was in control of the match. I was doing all kinds of shots, and everything went in my way,” Pironkova said.
“I was expecting it’s not going to last forever. I was expecting that she’s going to try different things and she’s going to put more power in her shots, and that’s what she did.
“Her serve, obviously it’s incredible weapon in tennis terms. There were a lot less unforced errors in the second set, and in the third set it was, like, no errors at all.”
With no day of rest, Serena will now meet good friend Victoria Azarenka Thursday night. Azarenka blew past Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 to reach her first Slam semifinal since the US Open in 2013 when she made the final.
“I felt today I really executed the game very precisely,” Azarenka said. “I was moving really well. I saw the ball very long. It was long on my racquet. I saw it where I needed to see it. So I felt I played well.
“I found all the right answers to everything she was trying to make today and more, so I’m very happy with that today.”
Azarenka was virtually flawless against the Belgian Mertens who came into the match having not lost a set. That changed pretty quickly.
Serena leads Azarenka 18-4 and 10-0 in Grand Slams.
“I love playing against Serena,” Azarenka said. “I think we have one of the best matches – at least that I played in my career – against her. We always played on big stages. It was a lot of big fights. She’s one of the players who push me to the limit, who makes me better. I’m excited for that.
“It’s been a while since we played. I think the last time was, what is it, Indian Wells. I think we both were not really playing well at that time. I think the semifinal of a Grand Slam is a different stage. It’s going to be a different fight. I’m looking forward to it.”
In the early match, power hitters Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady battle. Both have been belting the ball all event and the 25-year-old Brady hasn’t dropped a set, or even come close to losing one.
“I don’t feel like the favorite weirdly enough,” Osaka said. “Because there’s no fans, I don’t feel anything. I just feel like I’m going into a match with a really talented player, which is all of my previous matches anyway.
“For me, I remember watching her. I watched her match against Putintseva earlier today. I know she’s a big threat.”
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