• Jennifer Brady [28] v Naomi Osaka [4]
  • Serena Williams [3] v Victoria Azarenka
NEW YORK, USA – The semi-final line-up is one to savour as Jennifer Brady goes up against former champion Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams renews an enduring rivalry with two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka.

 

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Jennifer Brady [28] v Naomi Osaka [4] | H2H: Tied at 1-1 (incl. ITF)

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One of the standout performers has been Jennifer Brady, who became the first women’s college player to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Gigi Fernandez (in 1994). Brady kept herself busy during the restart with several of the domestic competitions and picked up some solid wins which all helped her en route to winning the title in Lexington.

She has yet to drop a set at the US Open, and late last year, she decided to head out to Germany to work with coach Michael Geserer and fitness trainer Daniel Pohl and if you compare her progress this year, to her average of qualifying and maybe a main draw win or two last year, it shows how she is now very much a force to be reckoned with.

She said, after winning her quarter-final: “I was playing challenger events, lower challenger events, losing in the qualifying first round, and I was thinking, okay, do I have a chance to make it? Will I make it? How can I really succeed doing this? Am I meant to play this sport? There were a lot of doubts, a lot of questions, you know, definitely not positive thoughts, you know, during those times.

“I decided to go to Germany, because I found a new coach and he was based out of Germany, as well as my trainer there, Daniel. I decided if I want to give myself an opportunity to maximize my potential and see how far I can get as a tennis player, I think I have to make a change. Because they were based out of Germany, I decided, Okay, I’ll go to Germany. I had no problem with that.

“I was looking forward to it, something different, out of the box, different from the usual staying at home and training in Florida. So I went over to Germany and trained indoors in the winter, and, you know, I was a little concerned about that, playing indoors in the cold weather before going to Australia, but honestly, it really didn’t make much of a difference. Yeah, really happy with the decision.”

 

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Over the net from her is the 2018 champion Naomi Osaka who has certainly had a couple of eventful weeks. She took a brave stance against racial inequality and social injustice, but the semi-final aggravated a hamstring injury that caused her to pull out of the final.

Things have not always gone her way in this tournament, and she has been used the distance a couple of times but perhaps ore impressively she dispatched the threat of Anett Kontaveit and Shelby Rogers with identical score-lines. Yet for all her experience at this level of a Slam, Osaka does not see herself as the favourite.

She said, in her post-match press-conference: “I don’t feel like the favourite weirdly enough. Because there’s no fans, I don’t feel anything. I just feel like I’m going into a match with a really talented player, which is all of my previous matches anyway. For me, I remember watching her. I watched her match against Putintseva earlier today. I know she’s a big threat.”

Both play aggressively and Brady’s serve and forehand combo was especially effective against Angelique Kerber, who could not find a way to neutralise the presence coming at her on the other side of the court.

Osaka, who won their most recent encounter on the Charleston clay in 2018 has developed a very solid aggressive baseline game, and can bat winners off both wings. We can expect to see a real battle of the forehands between this par, but perhaps Osaka adds a touch more variety in her use of spin and varying pace.

Prediction: Osaka in three sets.

 

 

Serena Williams [3] v Victoria Azarenka

It is a very quick turnaround for the women who played their quarter-finals on Wednesday, and this one is a treat. Serena Williams, who has been battling in every sense of the word this year on her quest to reach ’24’, and Victoria Azarenka, whose resurgence in the space of a few short weeks has been remarkable.

Things have not gone Williams’ way throughout the fortnight. Indeed, since the tour restart and her Lexington matches all went the distance, as did her time at the Western & Southern Open. She started well enough, but her last three matches have been three-setters, and she has had quite the practice at having to come from a set down.

What is shows though is that in the past, after returning from the birth of her daughter Olympia, she has not coasted into the final and then found herself struggling to be able to close out those tight matches.

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On the other side of the net, Azarenka has been in very solid form, only taken the distance once, and lost just the one game against Elise Mertens in the quarter-final.

Azarenka has twice made it to the US Open finals, both times (2012 and 2013) being beaten in a decider by Williams. Azarenka’s strength comes from the relentless pressure she can put on her opponents with her ground-strokes as she moves them round the court. Certainly, in her heyday she was one of the best returners on the tour and with her doubles pedigree, she can finish her points off at the net very comfortably.

Her backhand is a great weapon and it is clear that she has maintained her fitness over the lockdown, and it has really come to the fore since the restart.

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Against her would normally be the power of the Williams serve – which often alone would be enough to put enough fear into her opponents but that aura of invincibility has gone and to be fair against an old established foe, it is doubtful that would mean much now.

Azarenka was only really tested by Karolina Muchova who forced her to come from a set behind to advance, so Williams is more than tested and ready for a tough battle, as Williams explained in her post match press conference:

“It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish, right? I definitely agree. I feel like some of these matches, you know, [they’re]playing Serena, so it’s, like, close your eyes and hit as hard as you can and it doesn’t matter. So I kind of have to adjust to that.

“I start to adjust to that later on. Because I’m like, Okay, Serena now you know what’s going to happen. So now I just have to go in matches knowing that this is going to happen and just kind of adjust to that earlier as opposed to later.

“I just feel like — I’m okay. I’m ready to play three sets every match if I have to. It doesn’t matter. A win is a win.”

For Azarenka – her whole come back has seemed like a battle but in the Cincinnati tournament run in New York, something just seemed to have clicked for her, and as a Slam winner and a two-time finalist in New York in her own right, this is a golden chance to test herself against one of the best.

Azarenka said: “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. I’m excited for that.

“It’s been a while since we played. I think the last time was, what is it, Indian Wells. I think we both were not really playing well at that time. I think the semi-final of a Grand Slam is a different stage. It’s going to be a different fight. I’m looking forward to it.”

Prediction: Williams in three sets.

 

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