Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In matchup of moms, Serena rallies to beat Pironkova

Serena Williams played her third consecutive three-set match
and eighth in 10 matches since the women's tour resumed.
2018 photo by Mal Taam
   Serena Williams survived another three-set match today to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
   Overcoming a sluggish start, the third-seeded Williams beat unranked Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., in the first major quarterfinal between mothers.
   Pironkova, a Bulgarian who will turn 33 on Sunday, was playing in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017 after starting a family.
   Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, slugged 20 aces, her most in a match in eight years, and committed only one double fault. She twice returned a serve left-handed, winning each point, as she improved to 5-0 against Pironkova in their first meeting in five years.
   It was Williams' third consecutive three-set match and eighth in 10 matches since the women's tour resumed after a five-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. She turned the match around after losing her serve in the opening game of the second set.
   "I was definitely feeling it a little in my legs," the former world No. 1 said in an on-court interview. "For whatever reason, an hour in, I get more energy. ... In the beginning, I was a little fatigued. Obviously, I can't do that if I want to keep winning, so I'm going to try to figure that out."
   Added ESPN commentator Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champion: "Serena did not play her best, but she got herself out of trouble. She has to raise her level if she wants to win this tournament."
   Williams is 0-8 in attempts to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles crowns since her daughter, Olympia, was born on Sept. 1, 2017. Williams won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles in 2014, losing the last two finals to upstarts Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu
   Williams — the champion of the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014 —  is scheduled to play unseeded Victoria Azarenka on Thursday after the first semifinal between the fourth-seeded Osaka and 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady (4 p.m. PDT on ESPN).
   Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother, demolished 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-1, 6-0 in 73 minutes to extend her winning streak to 11 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. She won the Bank of the West Classic 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012 after winning the first of her two consecutive Australian Open crowns.
   Mertens, a semifinalist in the Australian Open and inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, had not lost a set in four tournament matches. She was coming off a 6-3, 6-3 victory over second-seeded Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion.
   Williams leads Azarenka 18-4 overall and 10-0 in majors, including three-set victories in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, in the head-to-head series. 
   In the first all-Russian men's quarterfinal in a major, third-seeded Daniil Medvedev downed 10th-seeded Andrey Rublev 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (5). The volatile Rublev led 5-1 and 6-3 in the first-set tiebreaker. 
   Medvedev, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) right-hander, took a medical timeout at 4-5 in the third set for apparent cramps in his legs and for treatment on his right arm.
   The 24-year-old Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, has not lost a set in this year's tournament.
   Rublev, 22, was playing in his second U.S. Open quarterfinal. He reached the last eight at Flushing Meadows in 2017 before missing three months in 2018 with a lower-back stress fracture and six weeks in 2019 with a wrist injury.
   Medvedev will face second-seeded Dominic Thiem, 27, of Austria on Friday. Thiem, a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, dismantled 21st-seeded Alex de Minaur of Australia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. De Minaur, 21, was playing in his first major quarterfinal.
   Thiem is 2-1 against Medvedev, but the Russian won the last meeting 6-3, 6-1 in the Montreal quarterfinals last year on a hardcourt. 

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