As the stage is set for the US Open women’s singles semi-finals, there remains only one former finalist in the fray. That finalist has also won six titles here, so to say she feels at home here would be an understatement.
On the other hand, this Grand Slam has been a revelation of women’s talent across the board. As big, familiar names and seeds tumbled out early, young players on the back of a strong season have made significant inroads in the tournament. Belinda Bencic, once the World No 7, has firmly declared a return to form after serious injury struggles, while the player she beat, Donna Vekic, has been steady in her rankings this year.
Elsewhere, Canada's Bianca Andreescu has been dominant in declaring not only her prowess at the game, but just how unique she is as a player. All of 19, the Indian Wells and Canada Open winner has graduated from being a player to watch out for to be the player who purists and public have been watching intently.
And then there’s Serena Williams. Gunning for a record-equalling (or if you go by the Open Era alone, record-making) 24th Major title, Williams was denied in the final last year by Naomi Osaka. It is a reckoning for Williams too, just of a different kind.
Semi Final 1: Elina Svitolina vs Serena Williams
Elina Svitolina has been in phenomenal form of late — that much is plain to see. The former World No 3 is the reigning champion at the WTA Finals, the year-end women’s tournament, but has struggled to find the ideal rhythm. Hard courts are one of her strongest surfaces, however, and Svitolina has the added advantage of having done well at Wimbledon, which is especially big for her considering she tends to falter under pressure at Majors.
This year, the Ukrainian has had consecutive semi-final appearances in Doha and Dubai, and then at Indian Wells, following on the heels of a quarter-final showing at the Australian Open.
Svitolina is also gunning to be the fourth player overall, and the first since 2016, to complete the Williams Double, ie defeating both sisters at a tournament. She defeated older sister and two-time US Open champion Venus in Round 2.
In the semis, the odds are stacked firmly in Serena’s favour, who leads their head-to-head record 4-1. Crucially, two of those four wins have come at Grand Slams. What Svitolina will be buoyed to some extent by, is the fact that their most recent meeting — at the Rio Olympics in 2016 — went her way in straight sets.
When one thinks Serena, one thinks power and quick, near-impenetrable serves. Her 44-minute quarter-final demolition of Wang Qiang, where the American kept 90 percent of her first serves in play, should warn Svitolina.
The Ukrainian does not have Serena's powerful service game, but she has the ability to play defensively, and solidly. She waits for her opponent to falter and lures them in. With Williams’ tendency to get frustrated on occasions when big points do not go her way, this is a particularly valuable strength. If Svitolina was able to do it to the generally stolid Venus Williams, it may stand her in good stead against Serena. She has the ability to play out big points, and lest we forget, she is an aggressive power hitter too, in the mould of Simona Halep.
One thing that Svitolina might worry about is her relative inexperience, or her tendency to falter at the pressure stages of a Grand Slam. Then, there's a small matter of dealing with the vocal US Open crowd who can be ruthless to those it does not like.
Match 2: Belinda Bencic vs Bianca Andreescu
Both Belinda Bencic and Bianca Andreescu have impressed, to some extent, for similar reasons. Andreescu has brought back into vogue an all-court game that has been decidedly rare to see these days.
Whether it’s been aggressive tennis or a defensive game she has needed to pull out, Andreescu — who was goaded into pursuing tennis long term by Simona Halep — has done it all.
Bencic and Andreescu — both of whom played high-quality quarter-finals — have never played each other before, so this match will be particularly interesting to watch. Both players have had everything going for them this week, and both have something to prove.
Swiss No 13 Bencic, at only 22 years of age, is already in her second coming. Having had significant injury struggles lay her off and then drop her down the rankings, the Swiss began 2019 as the World No 55; she was already back to No 13 at the start of the US Open. She has had a number of semi-finals this year — most notably at Indian Wells — and won the title in Dubai over the second seed at that tournament, Petra Kvitova. En route to that title, she defeated three other seeds in quick succession — Aryna Sabalenka, Simona Halep, and Elina Svitolina — to take the trophy.
The Swiss retired from her first-round match in Cincinnati, ahead of the US Open owing to a left foot injury. Injuries have plagued her throughout her career, and having played an extremely high level of tennis over the past week cannot have helped matters; Bencic will be wary of that going into the final, particularly with Andreescu’s attacking game.
On the other hand, Andreescu is coming off an unprecedented momentum. Having just won the title at the Canadian Open up a break against Serena Williams (who eventually retired from the match), she also won at Indian Wells. She currently stands at a staggering 31-4 this season, and her meteoric rise is emphasised by the fact that she played this year’s Australian Open as a qualifier, but has been seeded for the US Open.
But then again, Andreescu is also no stranger to injury. She has had a number of retirements this year, including at Cincinnati just prior to the US open, owing to fatigue. This was after she sat out of Wimbledon due to shoulder trouble. At 19, she’s dealing with shoulder injuries, knee aches, a broken rotator cuff, and other injuries more experienced players would baulk at.
Still, look for the teen to edge out her rival during their semi-final.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 15:01:55 IST