US Open: Williams Wins Battle Of Moms With Pironkova

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Three mothers – Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova– all enjoyed center stage on Arthur Ashe Stadium, each bidding for a semifinal berth at the US Open on Wednesday.

Six-time US Open champion Williams, 38, mother of three-year-old Olympia, started the day against the surprising 32-year-old Bulgarian Pironkova, mother two-year-old Alexander. Later, Azarenka of Belarus, mother of four-year-old Leo, faced Elise Mertens from Belgium, who is single.

Williams brought a 4-0 lifetime head-to-head record against Pironkova into the match, all of them before childbirth. Their last meeting was 2015. Then, Pironkova stopped playing after the 2017 Wimbledon Championships to start a family. Now, in her first tournament back, the 2020 US Open, she’s playing in her first major quarterfinal since the 2016 Roland Garros.

Sometimes, life’s not fair and separation from mother and child can be difficult. While Williams and Azarenka have their children in New York for the fortnight – and both former No. 1s have been caught on camera enjoying the company of their kids off the court – Pironkova’s son remained in Bulgaria.

“I haven’t seen him in two weeks, and it’s very tough,” Pironkova said in a recent interview. “It gets tougher every day. But I know he’s watching; I know he’s proud of me. And it’s worth it.”

Meanwhile, Williams’ daughter has been seen cheering for her famous mom, sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium with her father and Williams’ husband, as she chases after major title No. 24.

“I’m so happy that there are so many moms in the event, obviously because I’m one,” said Williams, who was playing in her 53rd major quarterfinal. “I just have a totally new respect for moms.”

When their quarterfinal was over, after two hours and 11 minutes, Williams rebounded from a tight start and advanced to her 11th straight US Open semifinal with a physical and emotional 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Pironkova. It also advanced her to her 39th major semifinal, where she has a 33-5 lifetime record.

While Williams didn’t bring her “A” game to her quarterfinal encounter, she showed the same fighting spirit she’s exuded throughout this fortnight. When it was time for her post-match interview on court, the 23-time major titlist gave props to Pironkova, who finished with four aces and hit 27 winners and has been the feel-good story of this year’s US Open.

“She’s incredible,” said Williams. “She played unbelievable.”

Williams fired 20 aces against just one double fault and hit 44 winners off the ground, including a backhand winner on match point that kept her hopes alive for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title that would tie Margaret Court.

“I am happy to just be here standing and talking with you,” said Williams. “I was like one point from not being here. I just kept fighting and never gave up. You got to keep going.

“This just shows how tough moms are. You give birth to a child you can do just about anything.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Williams was asked what message she would send to all sports women who are mothers and who believe that after 30 or 35 years-old they cannot continue breaking records and competing at a high level like she does. She said:

“I think when you’re a mom, you overcome so much just to become that and to be that. And then I feel like, you know, age is really how you feel mentally and how your body is doing and how you physically are able to keep up.

“If you think of it as just a number, then that’s all it is. So, yeah, I just think people always say you’re not always to do something at a certain age, but, you know, with technology and time, we can kind of make that age a little bit longer.”

Azarenka dominates Mertens

Next, Williams will face the unseeded and Azarenka in Thursday evening’s second semifinal, a repeat matchup of the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals, both won by Williams. The first semifinal will pair fourth seed Naomi Osaka and 28th seed Jennifer Brady.

During Wednesday’s evening’s final quarterfinal, the 27th-ranked Azarenka from Belarus dominated 16th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-1, 6-0, dropping just one game and needing only 73 minutes to wrap up her fifth victory of the tournament and 10th since arriving for the “double in the bubble,” which began with the Western & Southern Open that she won.

Azarenka’s amazing performance returns to her first Grand Slam semifinal since the 2013 US Open, when she was a finalist. The native of Minsk was solid in each of her 21 winners and she broke Mertens in each of the Belgian’s six service games.

“She did everything better,” said ESPN analyst Chris Evert. “If she wants to beat Serena, she’s going to need a big serve.”

Azarenka, 31, has dropped just one set during the tournament, in the fourth round to Karolina Muchova. Otherwise, it’s been a fortnight characterized by straight-set triumphs.

When asked about facing Williams in the semifinals, Azarenka said, Can it get any better? For me it can’t. …

“I have to keep fighting, but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.”

Medvedev reaches second straight US Open semifinal

Third seed Daniil Medvedev booked his place in Friday’s semifinals with a convincing 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over fellow Russian, tenth seed Andrey Rublev Wednesday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

With 16 service aces, an 89-percent efficiency rate in winning points on his first serve and 51 winners to his credit – not to mention that he faced no break points during the two hour and 27-minute match – Medvedev is back in the US Open semifinals for the second straight year.

Despite dominating the statistical side of things, Medvedev (now 10-3 at the US Open) didn’t take anything for granted.

“It was tough at the end,”said the 24-year-old Moscow native. “Maybe the first time in almost a year I celebrated my win because it was very tough at the end. I felt like I could get in trouble, so I was really happy to get the win in the tie-break. One point decided two sets, so it was a really tough match.”

To his credit, Rublev, who was playing in his second US Open quarterfinal, didn’t play badly – 10 service aces, broken just once, 23 winners. Simply, he was outplayed in losing his third straight to Medvedev.

With five “clean sheets” – no sets dropped – during the fortnight, Medvedev hopes to become the first Open Era men’s player to win a US Open without dropping a set. (Prior to the Open Era, Australian Neale Fraser swept 21 straight sets en route to winning the 1960 U.S. Championships title.)

Thiem completes men’s semifinal quartet

On Friday, Medvedev will play second seed Dominic Thiem of Austria, who eliminated 21st seed Alex de Minaur of Australia with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory in two hours and four minutes. Thiem was efficient with 11 aces, 43 winners and seven breaks of de Minaur’s serve. He outpointed his opponent 95-69.

Thiem, 27, becomes the first Austrian to reach the US Open semifinals.

The other semifinal will pit fifth seed Alexander Zverev against 20th seed Pablo Carreño Busta.

“There’s no Roger, Rafa, Novak but there is Daniil, Sascha and Pablo now,” said Thiem during his post-match on-court interview. “They’re three amazing players. Every single one of us deserves this first major title, everybody will give it all. Once we step on the court, the other three are forgotten anyway.”

Around the US Open

On Wednesday afternoon in Louis Armstrong Stadium, third seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Xu Yifan of China were taken to a final-set tiebreak, where they saved a match point against unseeded Americans Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend. In the end, Melichar and Xu won the final three points pulled out a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7) victory in two hours and eight minutes to advance to the US Open women’s doubles final. Each squad hit 46 winners. It was that close.

“I think it sounds like we have more work to do,” Melichar said in an on-court interview after the win. “No, it sounds amazing. Before the match, I told my coach I was prepared for a 7-6 in the third battle. Obviously, I’m thrilled we won 7-6 in the third; you always wish that it’s easier, but we fought our hearts out. …

“Asia and Taylor played a great match. We’ve known each other for so many years, played against each other so many times.”

Next, Melichar and Xu will face Germany’s Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final on Friday afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Wednesday’s results

Thursday’s order of play

By the numbers