Serena Williams is three matches away from becoming just the second woman in the Open era to win three US Opens in a row. Her next opponent will be the Italian Flavia Pennetta, check out their Head to Head record.
The world number one has made relatively low key progress to the last eight. While every other top seed has tumbled out of the draw in either dramatic or disappointing fashion, Serena has strolled through her first four matches. Not only has she not dropped a set, she hasn’t lost more then three games in a set. The ace count (16) may be modest by her standards, but she has won well over 80% of first serve points. That statistic alone makes it very difficult for opponents to trouble her.
It’s also worth noting how relaxed Serena has appeared in New York. Throughout 2014, we have seen her lose matches from strong positions, her movement and thinking fuddled by tension and anxiety. Sticky moments have been few and far between over the last week, with the result that she’s into a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time this season. That bodes well for her title campaign: a calm Serena is a dangerous Serena.
But few of her 17 Grand Slam titles have come with no hiccups whatsoever. Somewhere along the the line, she has stumbled against a lower ranked player, or been forced to dig deep when she’s enduring an off day. Might this quarter-final against Flavia Pennetta represent a bump in the road?
On paper, Serena shouldn’t be too bothered by the prospect of playing the Italian. She has beaten her in all five of their previous matches, and outclasses her in terms of firepower. Pennetta is a top fifteen player with sound technique and the ability to vary strokes and tactics mid-match, but she has no major weapon. Serena’s possesses the best serve in the game, and no one treats short balls with more disdain. If she’s playing anything like her her best tennis, Serena should win comfortably.
For Pennetta to have any chance of pushing Williams, let alone scoring an upset, she’ll have to hope for a repeat of the circumstances that brought about Serena’s downfall at Wimbledon and the Australian and French Opens. This is, Serena will have to be suffering from a physical niggle or be well below par, while Flavia herself produces the performance of her career.
Pennetta has been playing with more aggression since her comeback from wrist surgery last year: it’s what got her to the US Open semi-finals 12 months ago and won her the Indian Wells title back in March. A formidable doubles player, she is also comfortable at the net and often uses sharp angles to bamboozle rivals. If all of those facets of her game are on fire, she could engage her fellow 32-year-old in a war of attrition, for a set and a half at least.
Prediction: Serena will throw in one of her curiously absent-minded first sets before asserting herself in the second and steamrolling through the third.