US Open 2020, Day 9 & 10 Takeaways: Serena ends Pironkova’s run, Azarenka awaits in the SFs

The semi-finals of the 2020 US Open are all set for Thursday night in New York and it’s one hell of a line-up! Naomi Osaka will take on Jen Brady, followed by Serena Williams against Victoria Azarenka. I’m selfishly cursing that they’ve stuck with the traditional night semi-finals but I will eagerly catch up with the matches in the morning.  Read on for my quarter-final thoughts, as well as previews of the semi-finals.

Brady in straights again, reaches first Slam SF 

Jennifer Brady advanced to her first Slam semi-final as she won the first and last four games in a 6-3 6-2 victory over Yulia Putintseva. Brady’s route through the draw has been silky smooth, dropping just 24 games in five matches. In arguably the biggest match of her career, this was yet another assured performance from Brady.

The obvious stars of Brady’s game are the serve and the forehand (🔥) which both continue to thrive on these fast courts. An underrated aspect is Brady’s patience and staying power in the extended rallies. Putintseva provided patches of resistance as she varied the pace and height on her groundstrokes. Brady generally coped well and surged to the finish line with a flurry of winners.

This is a brand new situation for Brady and she’s the least experienced Slam player of the last four but she’s playing as well as anybody left in this draw.

Osaka in clinical form 

Naomi Osaka was in sensational form as she defeated Shelby Rogers, 6-3 6-4. Osaka hit 24 winners to only eight (!) unforced errors. The stats are glowing in Osaka’s favour with the first serve percentage (47%) the only area that requires improvement for the next round. Osaka’s groundstrokes have been lethal all tournament and I liked how she mixed angles with precise down-the-line bullets.

I thought Rogers played a decent match. The American player was very aggressive and tried to play first-strike tennis. Unfortunately with that came some unforced errors and Osaka was just so, so consistent. Rogers had a few moments where she got on top of the Osaka second serve at the end of the first set but generally struggled to make an impact in Osaka’s service games.

It’s amazing that this is only Osaka’s third Slam semi-final. The two previous times that she has gone past the fourth round, she’s won the whole caboodle.

Serena ends Pironkova’s glorious run

In her third consecutive three setter, Serena Williams ended the glorious run of Tsvetana Pironkova. Serena came from a set and a break down to win, 4-6 6-3 6-2. Pironkova made a superb start to the match with arguably her best set of the entire tournament. Pironkova’s forehand slice, a unique shot on the WTA tour, was so effective. She drew short mid-court balls from Serena which then allowed her to dictate with her inspired backhand. The rest of the game was locked in as Pironkova dropped just five points on her serve and she produced a couple of exquisite lobs.

Pironkova played a bruising match with Alizé Cornet in the last round and began to show signs of fatigue towards the end of the second set. Serena made inroads on the increasingly attackable Pironkova second serve. Still though, the Bulgarian player made this such a tough match in the final two sets. Serena had to dig deep and played a high-quality final set, producing 18 winners to just four unforced errors.

Serena is into her 14th (!) US Open semi-final. This is the most sets Serena has lost at a Slam since she returned after the birth of her first child. It’s a different route, but that’s not necessarily a negative as a lack of match play has almost seem to catch up with her in previous Slam finals. I’m interested to see how Serena recovers with no day off before the semi-finals. Take a bow, Tsvetana Pironkova, for a tremendous run and one of the most memorable tennis storylines of 2020.

Azarenka outclasses Mertens, first Slam SF since 2013!

Victoria Azarenka produced an exceptional display to beat Elise Mertens, 6-1 6-0, and extend her winning run to ten matches. Azarenka is into her first Slam semi-final since the 2013 French Open! Early signs were that this was going to be a close match. Both looked vulnerable on the second serve and were returning impressively. Azarenka came out on top of the early exchanges and then pulled away at alarming pace.

Azarenka completely outclassed Mertens in the rallies as she built the points by hitting into the corners. Azarenka was more successful than Mertens coming forward. Mertens committed an unusually high number of unforced errors including a handful of double faults at critical stagfes of the match. A lot of the errors though were forced by Azarenka who just had an answer for everything. Mertens said in her press conference that she didn’t do a lot wrong and Azarenka was just too good.

As i’ve written already this week, Azarenka is just buzzing and having a ball on court. To quote Vika in response to a question about the looming semi-final against Serena Williams, can it get any better?!

Day 11 watchlist 📺

Naomi Osaka vs. Jen Brady: A battle of the forehands! The pair are split at 1-1 in their head-to-head although I don’t think you can read too much into those matches with how both players have progressed since their most recent meeting in 2018. Brady is a huge threat and I don’t think Osaka will underestimate her. I do think the occasion could be a factor for Brady and having yet to be tested at this tournament. I’m going for Osaka.

Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka: So, so excited for this one! Serena leads the head-to-head, 18-4 but Azarenka has historically played Serena better than most with eight of their 22 clashes going the distance. The pair have had their moments at the US Open, playing the finals in 2012 and 2013 where Serena won both in three thrilling sets. Azarenka has been more convincing during the tournament as Serena has been forced to battle through in her last three matches.

My instinct is with Azarenka because of her confidence right now and aggressive positioning up on the baseline. Serena though always brings it at this stage of a Slam and her record is legendary, winning 33 of 38 Slam semi-finals. Let’s just enjoy this one! 😍😍😍

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter and Facebook. Feature photo by Omar Boraby Photography.

8 thoughts on “US Open 2020, Day 9 & 10 Takeaways: Serena ends Pironkova’s run, Azarenka awaits in the SFs

  1. I’m still backing my pre tournament prediction of Osaka v Vika in the final. I think Serena could have done with a day off after another long battle. I’m not sure how much of a match she can really give Azarenka, who just looks in prime form – but you never know! When she has been aggressive, it’s been very, very good. And her serve has been clutch. She needs to put a lot of pressure on Victoria’s second serve as early as possible if she wants to win.

    I will be interested to see if Brady gives Osaka a test. Both women seem to play really well against big hitters. I favour Osaka (just) in every regard – serve, forehand, return, movement. But then I used to say the same with Garcia v Brady and…

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  2. I am pulling so hard for Naomi. I think she’s a brilliant young player, and an even more incredible human being. I am literally humbled by her compassion and empathy for others. I will remember her being forced to apologize for winning the U.S. Open for the rest of my life; being put in that shocking situation by the actions of Williams, it was one of the most unforgettable sports moments in my lifetime. I’ve pulled hard for her ever since. She’s truly an inspiration. I’ve been watching sports all my life, nearly 60 years, and if I ever get the chance I will tell her she’s a hero of mine. She’s an old soul, she carries both a great passion for the sport, and an even greater empathy for others. The way she spoke with Coco after that tough match, young Coco crying and Naomi speaking to her with such wisdom and friendship; again another unforgettable moment of grace and class.

    I can’t say enough about the young woman. She deserves all the success in the world.

    At the same time Brady has been a steam roller! This is going to be a huge hitting match. Wow.

    And with the classic Williams/Azarenka matchup, it’s a classic. It’s going to be a great night of tennis, that’s for sure. Maybe Victoria can pull it off and get the big win this time around; wouldn’t that be something?

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    • I completely agree with your comments about Naomi but I just don’t think that your dig at Serena is fair. Yes, she overreacted (although IMO, given the circumstances and the pressure, her reaction was understandable). But it isn’t fair to blame her entirely for what happened that year – Carlos Ramos handled that situation incredibly poorly. And Naomi herself has defended Serena more recently in interviews.

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  3. To be honest, I’m just hoping they all show up for their matches. My love for baseline tennis has been peaked. You can’t ask for a better set of hard court hitters in the semifinals and may the best woman win. I think both will be great matches. I woke up this morning feeling it might be Vika and Jennifer in the final. My heart is with Naomi though, hope she doesn’t bottle it.

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    • We have yet to see Osaka bottle it at this stage in a tournament. She’s shaping up to be remarkably like Serena in that respect – back in the day, when Serena reached the final four of a Slam, she was almost certainly going on to win the whole thing.

      I have loved Osaka’s energy and positivity on court these past few weeks. But then, I could say the same for Brady and Azarenka! It’s funny because I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Serena as being the underdog in the final four of a Slam before but…

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  4. Well done to both Naomi and Vika for getting this far. Whoever wins tomorrow will have three slam titles to their name.

    I couldn’t choose between them as both are playing really well, but I have a slight preference for Vika, who/s nearing the end of her career now and won’t have as many chances to win a slam in future as Naomi.)

    (Just a quick quiz question here; when was the last time in a slam final, or any final for that matter, you had two players whose surnames began with vowels? The only one I can think of was in men’s tennis; Andre Agassi vs. Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 1992.)

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