Serena Williams started slowly but in the end managed to beat Czech eighth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals of the US Open in extremely humid conditions on Tuesday.
Serena, 36, who is biding for her seventh US Open title and her 24th Grand Slam crown overall, started sluggishly and allowed Plsikova to take a 3-1 lead at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
With the heat rule in effect, junior matches on the outside courts were suspended and when Serena took the court, she took time to settle. She made 22 unforced errors in the opening set but showed her hunger and big-match experience to battle back and win the last four games.
With the heat affecting Roger Federer in his round-of-16 match against John Millman, Sernea showed signs of struggle as well but the American overcame it thanks to the crowd at Flushing Meadows.
“The crowd was really rooting for me and I felt so bad because everyone out here was cheering and I wasn’t winning so I thought I had to try harder,” Williams said courtside.
“I really feel like right now I’m playing free. I was having a baby this time last year so I have nothing to prove.”
All the feels…
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2018
The second set was far more comfortable for the number 17 seed.
Two successive breaks of serve allowed Williams to win her eighth game in a row and open up a 4-0 lead, and she saw off a brief fightback from Pliskova before sending down her 13th ace to seal the match in one hour and 26 minutes.
“When I get to a Grand Slam, I feel I want to play really hard. I want to do really well. I love this game so maybe that’s why,” said Williams, who was beaten by Pliskova in the 2016 semi-finals.
Williams saved 10 of the 12 break points and struck 35 winners to Pliskova’s 12 to record her first victory over a player in the world’s top 10 since returning from maternity leave earlier this year.
Next up for the American is a semi-final clash with 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2018
“She’s been playing really well for actually a long time,” Williams said of her semi-final opponent.
“So obviously I know her game really well. She clearly knows mine. So she’s definitely someone that gets a lot of balls back and something I have to be ready for.”
DEFENDING CHAMPION STEPHENS KNOCKED OUT
Defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens was dumped out in the quarter-finals after losing 6-2 6-3 to Latvian 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova in sweltering conditions.
The third-seeded American lacked the swagger she showed through the opening four rounds and wilted in the sun-baked conditions at Flushing Meadows against Sevastova, who became the first Latvian woman to reach the semi-finals of the U.S. Open.
Next up for the 28-year-old is Serena, who beat Pliskova later in the day to move into the semis.
Sevastova, who avenged last year’s quarter-final loss to Stephens in New York to reach her first Grand Slam semi, converted five of her eight break points and saved seven of the nine against her on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Anastasija Sevastova defeats Stephens 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal!
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2018
By failing to step up her game for the key points, Stephens allowed the match to get away from her quickly and despite a late fightback was in no shape to pull off a comeback.
“Today I just really couldn’t get anything to connect. Even when I did have my break opportunities, I just wasn’t playing the points well at all,” Stephens, who beat Sevastova during a U.S. Open tune-up in Montreal last month, told reporters.
“Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting. It just was a really tough day. The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.”
With temperatures hovering above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2°C), and the tournament’s extreme heat policy in effect for a second consecutive day, Sevastova broke an error-prone Stephens to go 3-1 ahead and never looked back.
Stephens, who was visibly struggling under the sauna-like conditions, simply had no answer for the steady stream of drop shots sent her way by Sevastova, who later said she was not trying to take advantage of the conditions.
“I saw that she was struggling. I was struggling also a little bit, but I didn’t show it that much. But I don’t play dropshots when I see the player struggling or bending over, no,” Sevastova told reporters.
“I just play them instinctively, and that’s how they work, or don’t work sometimes.”
Sevastova, who retired from tennis in 2013 due to injuries before returning in 2015, nearly let Stephens into the match in the second set as the American twice pulled back on serve at 2-1 and again at 4-3, but the fightback proved short-lived.
Serving for the match, the Latvian raced out to triple match point and although Stephens saved two of them, Sevastova sealed the win when the 25-year-old American pushed a backhand into the net.