Caroline Wozniacki is in a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time in three and a half years. Shuai Peng had made the final four of a major for the first time ever. Both women are in the form of their lives at the moment, but only one can advance to the US Open final. Check out the Wozniacki vs Peng Head to Head.
Follow the semi-final live: Wozniacki vs Peng
It’s hard to say which woman has been the more impressive in New York. We knew Wozniacki was a great player, but it’s been a long time since she sat atop the WTA rankings and many would have been forgiven for thinking she’d never recapture the form that took her there. Encouraging results on hard courts this summer – wins over Kerber and Radwanska, twice pushing Serena to three sets – suggested that she could do some damage at Flushing Meadows in the right circumstances. But her fourth round and quarter-final performances have been revelatory.
In the last 16, Wozniacki outmanoeuvred and outfought Maria Sharapova to win a three-set dogfight. Her defensive tennis was impeccable, yet she also proved how much her offensive game has evolved. Rather than hang back and wait for Sharapova to miss, Wozniacki stepped up the court and pressured the Russian. Maria blinked.
On Tuesday night, Wozniacki produced one of the most impressive displays of her career to take out Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1. In theory, a match between two uber-fit counterpunchers should have lasted hours. But Wozniacki took on the role of aggressor and was off the court within 65 minutes. The most striking statistic from both the Sharapova and Errani matches has been Wozniacki’s winner count. We’ve been used to seeing her play, and even win, without ever notching double figures in that category. In the fourth round and quarter-finals, Caro hit 22 and 26 winners respectively.
While Wozniacki has broken out of an extended slump, Shuai Peng has come from nowhere. Aged 28, with a career high ranking of 14 achieved three years ago, there was absolutely no indication that the Chinese would have a breakout tournament. Sure, Peng has made the last 16 of many Grand Slams and has contested six WTA singles finals, but she is also the player who had to come through qualifying in New Haven on the eve of the US Open. There was nothing to suggest that she could knock out the likes of Radwanska, Vinci and Safarova without dropping a set.
In the quarter-finals, Peng played a clean and sensible match to snuff out the hopes of Belinda Bencic in just over an hour. Can she bring that seemingly effortless, nerveless tennis to the semi-finals and register another huge scalp? Or will she come unstuck against the equally solid and confident Wozniacki? The head-to-head record makes uncomfortable reading for Peng. She has lost four of her five encounters with the Dane, her sole win coming back in 2007.
Double-handed on both sides, Peng uses sharp angles to take opponents far out of court; she then moves forward to deal clinically with the resulting short replies. Her flat hitting and solid net play – she is a former doubles world number one – have taken care of five opponents handily. However, Peng hasn’t faced a standout defender yet, and it will be interesting to see how she copes when the balls keep coming back at her. The obvious answer is to aim closer to the lines and create even craftier angles, but that is much easier said than done.
Peng will target the Wozniacki forehand in the hope that Caro feeds her a short, loopy response, and she’ll likely win a lot of points that way. Throughout this tournament, though, Wozniacki has been adept at making up for her weaker wing with searing backhands and bold forays to the net. She is not a natural volleyer, but she is competent in the forecourt: she won over 70% of points at the net against Sharapova and Errani.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the hot water test. Peng’s dominance through five matches has been mightily impressive, but the smoothness of her progress leaves a question mark hanging over her ability to wriggle out of a tight spot. Wozniacki, on the other hand, is no stranger to a high stakes deciding set.
Prediction: Wozniacki in two close sets.