Victoria AZarenka rallied to stun 6-time champion Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam final in seven years.
“Seven is my favorite number, so I guess it’s meant to be,” Azarenka told ESPN. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity, to be able to play such a champion in a semifinal. The road to the final requires you to beat the best players, and today was definitely that day.”
The 31-year-old Azarenka was just 4-18 against Serena, and 0-10 in Slams including two finals losses in New York in 2012 and 2013.
Early on, it looked like another loss was in store in this all-mom matchup. And easy one at that. After a shaky, double fault-filled start, Serena was the one who settled down and dominated the error-prone Azarenka who was playing 180 degrees the opposite of a night earlier when she destroyed Elise Mertens.
Serena had a break chance to go up 2-0 in the second and shut the door, but Azarenka began her rally. She managed to hold and a few games late garnered a break.
In the second game of the third at deuce, Serena grimaced in pain after injuring her left Achilles. Following a medical timeout, she returned but was broken giving Azarenka her fifth straight game and a 2-0 lead. That’s all the Bela-Russian needed to reach her third US Open final, fifth Grand Slam title match.
“She dug me in a big hole in the first set. I had to climb my way out of there one by one, and I was happy to turn it around, because it wasn’t easy, for sure,” Azarenka said.
Serena suffered her first loss in a Grand Slam semifinal as a mother. She’ll turn 39 in a few weeks and then resume her chase for 24 in Paris.
“I just think I made more errors,” Serena said. “I made a lot more errors. I didn’t win a lot on my second serves, apparently. I wasn’t serving. I mean, I served well, but I didn’t dominate the way I needed to in that.
“I made some really key mistakes on some returns in the second set that I probably should have done better. I mean, you know, I don’t know. That’s what I would say what happened.
“I think she started playing really, really well. Like, she just started getting balls that she normally doesn’t get back, she got those back. She started hitting shots that she normally doesn’t make, she made those. She just really stepped her level up.”
The first semifinal of the evening turned out to be the superior match. In a very high quality affair, Naomi Osaka took down American upstart Jennifer Brady 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3.
The 25-year-old Brady entered her first Grand Slam semifinal on a hot streak, having not dropped a set or faced a single set point. But Osaka could go toe-to-toe in the power department with the burly Brady. The two were quite even, serving big, bigger forehands, going into the breaker where Osaka finally got some separation.
Brady would bounce back in the second, but in the third the experience of Osaka showed.
Overall though, both women played exceptionally well with a combined 70 winners. Osaka finished +18 in winners to errors. Brady was +10.
“Sometimes I think I have no choice but to play as hard as I can, because my opponent isn’t giving me any looks,” Osaka said. “For me, normally if I focus that much, then the match potentially could be over in two. But I felt like it just kept going on.
“Honestly, it was a bit fun because that quality of an opponent.”
Brady will crack the Top 30 in the rankings and will likely climb much, much higher.
“I think I’m just proud of my effort, that I treated each match as the same, came in with the same mentality,” said Brady. “The only goal I had was just to compete on every single point. I felt like that’s what I did. I’m leaving here pretty proud.”
Osaka leads Azarenka 2-1 in their series. The two were scheduled to meet in the Cincinnati-New York final almost two weeks ago. They’ll try again on Saturday.
“I’m so excited to play her because we were supposed to play last week,” Azarenka said. “It’s going to be super fun. She plays incredibly. I watched her semifinal a little today, and they had some incredible rallies. She’s super powerful, so I’ll have to stay strong and have fun. Playing a final is a blessing and a great opportunity, so I’ll take all the fun out of it.”
You Might Like:
Osaka Battles Back On Barty For First Beijing Crown
Osaka Overcomes Vekic In Stuttgart; Kvitova Advances, Azarenka Injury
Azarenka Back On Top After Osaka Withdraws From Cincinnati Final
Serena Survives Rus Scare; Osaka, Azarenka Advance; Keys Owned
Naomi Osaka Splits From Coach Sascha Bajin