Thursday, September 10, 2020

Vika shocks Serena, will face Osaka in U.S. Open final

Victoria Azarenka reached her first Grand Slam singles final
since winning her second consecutive Australian Open title
seven years ago. 2019 photo by Harjanto Sumali
   Victoria Azarenka continued her stunning comeback in stunning fashion tonight.
   In a loud, hard-hitting battle of mothers in their 30s and former world No. 1s, the unseeded Azarenka subdued third-seeded Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Williams strained an Achilles tendon in the second game of the third set and took a medical timeout, but she seemed fine after that.
   Azarenka raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set of the shriek-fest, and both players held serve the rest of the way in a rematch of the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, both of which Williams won in three sets.
   "We both know the match is never over (until the last point)," Azarenka said in an on-court interview regarding her turnaround after the first set. "I knew it's not going to be over at 5-3 (in the third set) either. I've been there before. Today was going to be different."
   Not only is Azarenka eight years younger than Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, the Belarusian was fresher. Williams played in her fourth consecutive three-set match, including one on Wednesday (players normally have a day off between singles matches in Grand Slam tournaments). Azarenka, meanwhile, annihilated 16th-seeded Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 in 73 minutes on Wednesday.
   Azarenka, who had been 0-10 against Williams in Grand Slam tournaments, reached her first major singles final since the 2013 U.S. Open. The two-time Australian Open champion will meet fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan on Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN). 
   Osaka outslugged 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady of Orlando, Fla., 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 to reach her second U.S. Open final in three years. At age 20, Osaka shocked Williams in straight sets in a chaotic match for the first of her two Grand Slam titles.
   Azarenka extended her winning streak to 12 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 will climb at least 13 spots to No. 14 in the world rankings on Monday.
   Azarenka won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012 after capturing the first of her two consecutive Australian Open crowns. She played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of her pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.
   Williams, who claimed the last of her three Bank of the West Classic titles in 2014, again fell short in her quest to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
   Williams has failed to win any of the nine majors in which she has played since capturing the 2017 Australian Open title — losing four finals, all in straight sets — or to reach a final in her last four tournaments. She had a daughter on Sept. 1, 2017, and suffered life-threatening complications.
   Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic, is 2-1 against Azarenka, but both victories came on clay.
   Azarenka drubbed Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open in their first meeting, but Osaka was only 18 at the time.
   Men's singles semifinals — Fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany will meet 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN), followed by second-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia versus third-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria.
    Either Zverev, the 23-year-old son of former Russian pro Alexander Zverev Sr., or Carreno Busta, 29, will play in his first Grand Slam final.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev defeated Carreno Busta 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the 2018 Miami semis in their only previous meeting.
   Carreno Busta advanced to the quarterfinals when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball. Carreno Busta had just broken serve to lead 6-5.
   The 24-year-old Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, is the only men's semifinalist who has not lost a set in the tournament.
   Thiem, a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, is 2-1 against Medvedev. However, the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Russian won the last meeting 6-3, 6-1 in the Montreal quarters last year.
   Men's doubles final — Unseeded Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil won their first Grand Slam title together, defeating eighth-seeded Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia 7-5, 6-3.
   Soares, 38, claimed his third major men's doubles crown and Pavic, a 27-year-old left-hander, his second. They split $400,000.
   In the first round, Pavic and Soares trailed by a service break in the third set against fifth seeds and 2019 U.S. Open runners-up Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina. In the second round, Americans Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow served for the match against the eventual champions.
   Koolhof and Mektic, both 31, were playing in their first Grand Slam men's doubles final. They shared $240,000. 

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