Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka will reignite their rivalry on Thursday night at the US Open. The pair have played some great slam matches over the years although Serena does actually hold a 10-0 record in them with the most notable matches being their back to back finals in 2012 and 2013, which both went three sets.
Serena was not at her best in the quarter-finals and would have to fight hard to get past the unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova. She fell a set and a break down before pulling off the comeback win, 4-6 6-3 6-2. The tide was already turning as the match wore on but the momentum shift truly came as Serena broke for 5-3 after getting the better of Pironkova in one of the rallies of the match. She broke after another long game to open the decider as her opponent’s busy fortnight finally looked to be catching up with her. “A match like today, I just feel like [Pironkova] was serving well, she was hitting winners everywhere,” Williams said after “Maybe I wasn’t being aggressive enough. So I think it’s more or less me adjusting my game in the second set and coming back and just trying to do better.”
Azarenka made a statement in her quarter final win, demolishing Elise Mertens 6-1 6-0 in the night session. In one of best performances for a long time, she dominated the Belgian from start to finish with 21 winners to just 11 unforced errors. She also reminded people why she was one of the best returners in the game at her peak by breaking the Mertens serve on all six occasions. “I felt today I really executed the game very precisely,” Azarenka told press after the match. “I was moving really well. I saw the ball very long. It was long on my racquet. I saw it where I needed to see it. So I felt I played well.
“I love playing against Serena, I think we have one of the best matches – at least that I played in my career – against her. We always played on big stages. It was a lot of big fights. She’s one of the players who push me to the limit, who makes me better.” Azarenka said. The head to head doesn’t make kind reading at 4-18 but plenty of their matches have been thrilling three setters that the Belarusian could well have edged on another day. Serena will have to be hugely improved from her win over Pironkova otherwise her mistakes will be punished.
Azarenka’s initial return to the tour did not go well and much of that may have been the expectations of returning to her top form sooner rather than later. The time off appears to have given the former No. 1 time to reflect, with it appearing hugely beneficial. “It took me a long road to come here with a lot of struggles, a lot of understanding, forcing me to find this route, this path, if you can say that. But I’m here and I’m happy. I can definitely say this is the most exciting part for me. I mean, being in the semifinal of a Grand Slam is a blessing for sure, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets