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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

US Open 2018: Serena Williams battles past Karolina Pliskova to reach semis

Serena Williams fought back from a break down in the first set to beat Czech eighth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-3 and reach the semi-finals of the US Open in suffocating conditions on Tuesday. The 36-year-old, who is bidding for a record seventh title at Flushing Meadows as well her 24th career Grand Slam crown, started sluggishly at the Arthur Ashe Stadium , allowing Pliskova to take a 3-1 lead in the opening set.

With the heat rule in effect and junior matches on the outside courts suspended earlier in the day, Williams made 22 unforced errors in the opening set but showed all of her big-match pedigree to battle back and close out the set by winning the last four games. “The crowd was really rooting for me and I felt so bad because everyone out here was cheering and I wasn’t winning so I thought I had to try harder,” Williams said courtside.
“I really feel like right now I’m playing free. I was having a baby this time last year so I have nothing to prove.” The second set was far more comfortable for the number 17 seed. Two successive breaks of serve allowed Williams to win her eighth game in a row and open up a 4-0 lead, and she saw off a brief fightback from Pliskova before sending down her 13th ace to seal the match in one hour and 26 minutes.
“When I get to a Grand Slam, I feel I want to play really hard. I want to do really well. I love this game so maybe that’s why,” added Williams, who was beaten by Pliskova in the 2016 semi-finals. Next up for the American is a semi-final clash with 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Defending champion Sloane Stephens was eliminated on Tuesday from the US Open, beaten by Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
Stephens sent packing by Sevastova in quarters
Defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens was dumped out in the quarter-finals after losing 6-2 6-3 to Latvian 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova in sweltering conditions on Tuesday. The third-seeded American lacked the swagger she showed through the opening four rounds and wilted in the sun-baked conditions at Flushing Meadows against Sevastova, who became the first Latvian woman to reach the semi-finals of the US Open.
Next up for the 28-year-old is the winner of the evening match between six-times champion Serena Williams and Czech eighth seed Karolina Pliskova. Sevastova, who avenged last year’s quarter-final loss to Stephens in New York to reach her first Grand Slam semi, converted five of her eight break points and saved seven of the nine against her on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
By failing to step up her game for the key points, Stephens allowed the match to get away from her quickly and despite a late fightback was in no shape to pull off a comeback.
“Today 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,” Stephens, who beat Sevastova during a US Open tune-up in Montreal last month, told reporters.
“Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting. It just was a really tough day. The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.” With temperatures hovering above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2°C), and the tournament’s extreme heat policy in effect for a second consecutive day, Sevastova broke an error-prone Stephens to go 3-1 ahead and never looked back.
Stephens, who was visibly struggling under the sauna-like conditions, simply had no answer for the steady stream of drop shots sent her way by Sevastova, who later said she was not trying to take advantage of the conditions.
“I saw that she was struggling. I was struggling also a little bit, but I didn’t show it that much. But I don’t play dropshots when I see the player struggling or bending over, no,” Sevastova told reporters. “I just play them instinctively, and that’s how they work, or don’t work sometimes.”
Sevastova makes amazing comeback from retirement to semis
Sevastova, who retired from tennis in 2013 due to injuries before returning in 2015, nearly let Stephens into the match in the second set as the American twice pulled back on serve at 2-1 and again at 4-3, but the fightback proved short-lived. Serving for the match, the Latvian raced out to triple match point and although Stephens saved two of them, Sevastova sealed the win when the 25-year-old American pushed a backhand into the net.
Five years ago Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova was retired from professional tennis, having bowed out of the sport after a string of persistent and frustrating injuries. Back then it would have been difficult to imagine the scene on Tuesday when she upset defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-2 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final, marking the latest chapter in her remarkable career comeback.
“It was an amazing journey this three, four years,” Sevastova told reporters after the match, a repeat of last month’s Rogers Cup semi which Stephens won in straight sets. When Sevastova returned to tennis in 2016, she stunned experts and players alike at Flushing Meadows when she beat 13th seed Johanna Konta of Britain to reach the quarter-finals.
She reached the US Open last eight again in 2017 when she lost to Stephens and this year won the Bucharest Open. The 19th-seeded Latvian said the rigours of the tournament at flushing Meadows have not given her a moment to consider the long odds she overcame to regain her competitive form.
“You think, ‘Oh, but in the end it’s amazing, yeah?’ You can’t believe, yeah. So after I stop at some point I will look at it and I will be proud of myself, for sure.” Sevastova, ranked 18th in the world, said she did not have many goals when she returned to tennis. “I was thinking, okay, maybe a couple of years, play top 100. Enjoy the game.” she said.
“But now, obviously when you win more, you have higher goals. And when you’re, like, winning a tournament, you think that’s normal. I can win it maybe next week again.” The Latvian next faces either six-times US Open champion Serena Williams or eighth seed Karolina Pliskova, who play later on Tuesday at the Arthur Ashe stadium, in the last four.