US Open 2018: Serena reaches semis, champion Stephens exits
NEW YORK, United States – Six-time champion Serena Williams shook off a sluggish start to power past eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 and into the US Open semifinals on Tuesday, September 4.
The US superstar, chasing a record-equalling 24th major title, surrendered an early break to Pliskova, but she roared back with a streak of eight straight games to put away the opening set and take a 4-0 lead in the second against the woman who beat her in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 2016.
"Well I don't know," Williams said of how she engineered the turnaround.
"The crowd was really rooting for me and I felt so bad because everyone out here was cheering and I wasn't winning and I thought I've got to try harder."
She finished the match with 13 aces and will take on Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the final after the 19th-seeded Latvian toppled defending champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3.
There was a wobble for Williams as she dropped her serve in the second set, coughing up one of her five double faults on break point as Pliskova narrowed the gap to 4-1.
Williams fell behind again in the seventh game, but erased a 0-40 deficit with a 112 mph (180 Km/h) service winner followed by a another service winner and an ace.
Pliskova got another chance when Williams batted a forehand into the net, but another booming serve, a backhand winner and an unreturnable serve saw her negotiate the danger.
Serving for the match at 5-3 Williams didn't allow any room for doubt, holding at love with two aces and an overhead smash followed by one last ace.
"I really feel like right now I'm playing free because I was having a baby this time last year, so I have nothing to prove," said Williams, who is seeking her first major title since her daughter Olympia was born on September 1 of 2017.
With a win she would break out of a tie with Chris Evert for most US Open titles, and equal Margaret Court's all-time record for Grand Slams.
Stephens 'not connecting'
World number three Stephens, refused to blame the punishing afternoon heat and humidity for her lapses against Sevastova, including an inability to convert any of seven break chances in the opening set.
"When you don't play big points well, the match can get away from you," she said.
"I just really couldn't get anything to connect. Even when I did have my break opportunities, I just wasn't playing the points well at all. Mentally, physically, I just wasn't connecting."
Sevastova herself relies on variety more than power, and she caught a slow-moving Stephens with a number of drop shots and drop-shot lob combinations.
After taking a 4-1 lead in the second set, Sevastova admitted that memories of last year's quarter-final against Stephens flashed across her mind.
Stephens was ranked 83rd in the world when she upset Sevastova in three sets at the same stage last year, trailing by a break in the third set before winning it in a tiebreaker.
Indeed Stephens fought back to narrow the gap to 4-3, but Sevastova grabbed another break with a well-timed drop shot for a 5-3 lead and sealed the victory on her third match point when a weary Sephens put a backhand into the net.
"I lost my nerves a little bit," Sevastova admitted. "I think she lost also her nerves a little bit, it's normal. It's for semi-finals of US Open."
The defeats of Stephens and Pliskova completed the exodus of top 10 seeds.
The semifinal lineup will be completed on Wednesday when Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro takes on 2017 runner-up Madison Keys and Japan's Naomi Osaka faces Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko.
Del Potro downs Isner
Juan Martin del Potro reached the men's semifinals for the third time Tuesday, defeating John Isner 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and ending American hopes of a first men's champion at the event since 2003.
Argentine third seed Del Potro, the champion in 2009, goes on to face either world number one and defending champion Rafael Nadal or Austria's Dominic Thiem for a place in the final.
Del Potro dropped his first set of the tournament against 11th seed Isner, who was playing in his maiden quarter-final at his home Slam.
Despite that, the 29-year-old was never broken in the 3 hour 31 minute match where Isner unleashed 26 aces but was undone by 52 unforced errors compared to Del Potro's 14.
"To reach the semifinal again here in New York in my favourite tournament is very special to me," said Del Potro after his eighth win over Isner in 12 meetings.
"To play John in these kind of matches, it's like an epic.
"We fought the whole match and I survived with my serve which was key."
Del Potro admitted the 33-degree temperatures proved a real challenge with the 10-minute heat rule allowing the players a welcome respite after the third set.
"I had a shower, lay on the table and I didn't want to come back again. It was too hot to play tennis," he joked.
Isner said he needed to change his shirt 11 times.
Del Potro carved out the only break point of the first set in the 11th game but was unable to convert before the 33-year-old Isner claimed the tiebreak with his ninth ace.
That was the first set dropped by Del Potro at the tournament.
Another break point came and went for the Argentine in the second set before he deservedly broke through for 3-1, backed up by a love service hold.
He comfortably levelled the contest, giving up just three points on his own serve in the set.
Nadal against Thiem
Del Potro saved the only two break points he faced in the entire match in the fourth game of the third set which he wrapped up in another tiebreak.
Isner was a spent force in the fourth and Del Potro drove in the dagger with a break in the second game consolidated by another in the eighth.
Now he looks ahead to a semifinal where he will either take a 5-11 losing record against Nadal or a perfect 4-0 over Thiem, including a fourth round clash in New York last year where he came back from two sets down and saved two match points.
Isner, meanwhile, will return to Dallas as quickly as he can where his wife is due to give birth to their first child in two weeks' time.
But he played tribute to Del Potro.
"He's maybe playing some of the best tennis ever right now for him," said the American.
Later Tuesday, Nadal continued his pursuit of a fourth title in New York against Thiem, the man he beat to clinch an 11th French Open in June.
Nadal holds a 7-3 career lead over the 25-year-old but Tuesday's clash under the Arthur Ashe lights will be their first away from a clay court.
Nadal, 32, is the only man to have reached the quarterfinals of all four Slams this year.
Victory will put him into a 29th semifinal at the majors.
Thiem, the ninth seed, is bidding to become the first Austrian to reach the semi-finals of the US Open.
Wednesday's quarter-finals will see two-time champion Novak Djokovic face Australia's John Millman, the world number 55 who shocked Roger Federer in the last 16.
Marin Cilic will face Kei Nishikori in a repeat of the 2014 final won by the giant Croat. – Rappler.com
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