The 2016 US Open has finally reached its business end with only four players left to fight for the title in each section of the singles draw. Tonight at 4.30am IST (7pm local time), it is the turn of the ladies to take the stage as Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki will each be looking at a prized final berth.
Which two players among them will get closer to the trophy? Here’s a preview of the ladies semi-finals:
(1) Serena Williams vs (10) Karolina Pliskova
Head-to-head: Serena leads 1-0
Serves will be the biggest talking point when two of the Tour’s biggest servers meet in the first ladies semi-final of the day. While the World No. 1 Serena Williams is regarded as the best server in tennis, Karolina Pliskova’s serve is not too shabby either and she has a Tour-leading 439 aces this year to show for her accuracy.
But the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s game is much, much more than just her serve. Her ability to lift her game at the biggest stages of any match is what sets her apart. That is what was evident for the nth time during her outing against an inspired fifth seed Simona Halep, who had the legend on the ropes for quite some time during their quarter-final encounter.
Serena lost a set for the first time during the tournament, which she has won an impeccable six times in the past. More importantly, she seemed to have lost the sting on her intimidating serve and dropped it an unbelievable two times during this match.
Despite the relentless challenge, Williams raised her level when it mattered the most, capitalising on just a solitary break of serve in the deciding set to enter her 33rd Grand Slam semi-final.
Up next is an opponent whose experience of playing at this level pales away in comparison to the great Williams. For the World No. 11 Pliskova, this is just her maiden appearance in the last-four stage of any Major. Long considered a player who can threaten the top names at Slams, thanks to her effortless game, the 6’ 1’’ Czech No. 1 player has somehow flattered to deceive each time, until the 2016 US Open.
At 24, Pliskova is finally free from the burden of expectations and letting her wings soar. She is now on a 10-match winning streak after having clinched her second title of the year at Cincinnati.
Pliskova’s steely nerves were on fine display during her marathon Round of 16 clash with former champion Venus Williams. She not only battled back from a match point down but also did not let the partisan crowd’s support rattle her.
The Czech knows that playing the younger Williams sister is a different affair altogether. Aggression is the key, and a letdown at any point is unpardonable if she has any intentions of emulating Roberta Vinci’s 2015 feat.
In their only career showdown so far, she went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 in the first set but faded away in the second to slump to a 5-7, 2-6 loss two years ago at Stanford.
If she can get her serve going, Pliskova might be able to make this a thrilling show. However, expecting that Williams will allow a repeat of her 2015 semi-final shock might be a tad unrealistic.
Prediction: Serena in 2.
(2) Angelique Kerber vs Caroline Wozniacki
Head-to-head: Kerber leads 7-5
The tight head-to-head record shows that when Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki take the court, a great battle is bound to ensue. Their last meeting happened in Beijing in 2015, where the German No. 1 drubbed the Dane, dropping just five games.
A lot has changed since then. At 28, Kerber has discovered her inner belief and gradually built the best season of her career. After her stunning upset of the World No. 1 Serena Williams in the Australian Open final, Kerber had a mini-letdown trying to deal with her newfound stardom.
She rebounded from it in an equally spectacular fashion by reaching the Wimbledon summit clash.
The southpaw continued to surge throughout the summer, making it through to the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup and the finals of both the Olympic Games as well as Cincinnati. There has never been a better build-up to the US Open for the World No. 2.
The German’s determination throughout her campaign at Flushing Meadows has been unwavering. She stormed through to the last-four, matching her best US Open performance from 2011 and is yet to drop a set.
It’s not just the title that Kerber is after but she has yet another source of motivation. She is within sniffing distance of Serena’s No. 1 ranking which she failed to take at her first opportunity in Cincinnati. All she knows is she has to keep winning to be successful in her second chance.
But the task is not easy. Her semi-final opponent, Caroline Wozniacki, will ensure that the aspiring No. 1 player is not presented with the smoothest of paths. A former No. 1 herself, the Dane’s resurgence after large periods of struggle early on in the season has been riveting to watch.
An ankle injury and subsequent loss of form kept her winless at Slams until the 74th ranked Wozniacki arrived at New York. This is the scene of her greatest achievement, where the 26-year-old has fond memories of reaching the final twice.
The Big Apple has simply brought out the best in her. After needing three sets to prevail over the young Taylor Townsend, she did not concede a set en route to her fifth US Open semi-final.
On the way, she exuded some remarkable aggressive defense to dismiss two top-10 players in straight sets. Her 6-0, 6-2 thrashing of Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova in the quarter-finals was both brilliant and brutal.
There is no doubt that the second semi-final has all the elements to be the match of the day. Wozniacki has abundant experience on the New York hardcourts while Kerber’s willpower has been astounding. A fascinating match is on the cards where both women are in possession of exceptional defensive games.
But Kerber’s extra spurt of firepower and her current positive attitude are likely to help her cross that final hurdle when the going gets tough.
Prediction: Kerber in 3.