The second of the women’s semi-finals on Thursday night will feature Simona Halep up against Flavia Pennetta.
Halep produced one of her best performances of the year to come from a break down in a rain-interrupted third set to defeat Victoria Azarenka, 6-3 4-6 6-4. This was a really compelling match from start to finish with the pair producing some superb rallies in the decider. After a bright start from Azarenka to get the early break, Halep won six out of next eight games to take the opening set, 6-3. After a tentative start from Halep, she settled into a rather commanding groove from the baseline. Azarenka was error-strewn, hitting 14 unforced errors to just 4 winners with Halep able to expose the Belarusian’s movement and find a steady balance between defence and attack.
Azarenka raced out into a lead in the second set with some aggressive yet accurate play and benefitting from Halep missing some first serves. The world number two won 70% of points behind her first serve but only 29% on the second serve. Thankfully for Halep, she managed to keep her first serve percentage high at 76% during the whole match. Azarenka twice was ahead in the second set at 3-0 and 5-2 but wavered. While she failed to close out the set at *5-3, Azarenka broke straight back in the next game, taking advantage of some errant play from Halep from 30-30.
This match had a wonderful flow to it and interesting dynamic with Halep looking to get into rallies and use her superior agility and movement to get Azarenka in uncomfortable positions and out wide, while the Belarusian was looking for the first strike to be able to close out Halep with a winner or up at the net. The pair played some of their best tennis at the start of the third set. Azarenka saved three break points in the first game as she was rewarded for her boldness. She held and faced break point again in the third game, saving another three. Eventually though, the pressure took its toll and Halep converted on her seventh break point of the set.
The heavens then opened and there was a delay of a couple of hours (enough time for me to watch GBBO – Nadiya is my favourite!). Azarenka played a brilliant service game at 2-2, but Halep returned the favour with some equally dominating play. In a monumentally massive seventh game, Azarenka failed to convert on a game point and Halep got the break. I must say this was a whole new level from Halep who was so bold in her hitting and really went for it. The rallies were of such a high quality but Halep was dictating the majority of them and didn’t allow Azarenka to play her game.
Halep was down *15-30 when serving for the match, but won three points in a row, letting out a huge scream on match point. You could see how much this one meant to her. Halep finished with impeccable stats of 40 winners to 19 unforced errors while Azarenka had more errors (!) than winners with a 38-42 ratio. If you’re wondering why it was so close, Halep’s break point conversion was 6/19. It was a tough one for Azarenka who is slowly getting there but not quite. The win over Kerber was superb but I think she’s set herself up nicely for 2016.
The Italians are having another wonderful US Open with Flavia Pennetta joining Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals. Pennetta came from a set and a break down to beat a tiring, Petra Kvitova, 4-6 6-4 6-2. Kvitova hadn’t been playing her best tennis in the first set but she was clutch in all the big moments. Kvitova failed to serve out the first set, but broke in the next game with Pennetta up *40-0.
It took Pennetta until the second set to win at the sunny end. Kvitova got the first break but it didn’t last long with Pennetta upping her intensity and generally playing better. Pennetta took hold of the reins of this match, breaking at 4-4 with a wonderfully timed backhand return winner. The final game was a struggle with Pennetta missing a straightforward shot at the net after she had dragged Petra all over the court. Pennetta saved two break points, the second with a gorgeous backhand winner down-the-line, and wrapped up the set, 6-4.
Kvitova stayed with Pennetta early on in the third set but was looking increasingly tired and was barely squawking pojds at her winners. The heat and humidity looked intense. Pennetta was just too solid in the final set, keeping a good depth on the ball and making Kvitova move from side-to-side. Kvitova closed a few points out at the net which was nice to see. Petra was 20/26 on net points and it’s a tactic i’d like to see more because Petra is great volleyer. I fee like she was doing it a lot more a few years ago but perhaps that’s just me.
Pennetta won the last four games of the match to march into her second US Open semi-final. It’s great to see Flavia playing well as she’s a fun character to have in the latter stages of tournaments. This was a great tournament for Petra given her issues this summer and I will admit that I am sad we didn’t get to see Petra-Simona or Petra-Vika in the semis.
Pennetta leads Halep in the head-to-head, 3-1 and won their only previous match at the US Open back in 2013 en route to the semi-finals. 6-2 7-6(3). Pennetta’s a tough match for even the best players on tour and she’s playing some excellent tennis. This won’t be an easy match for Simona… even though I am going for her to win in two tight sets. Halep was so impressive against Azarenka, particularly in her aggressive mentality and how well she served. While I suppose there could be a slight letdown, I think she’s brimming with confidence and mentally ready to go one step further…
Prediction: Halep d. Pennetta in 2 sets