Serena Williams tasted defeat in her US Open semi-final clash with Victoria Azarenka after suffering an injury early in the third set of a dramatic clash.
Williams – who was hoping to equal Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record in New York – had hammered Azarenka in the opening set but was forced into a decider by the fellow former world No. 1.
With the match finely poised, Williams felt a sudden pain in her Achilles and had extra strapping applied.
She was broken moments later and it proved to be a critical blow as Azarenka stormed on to win 1-6 6-3 6-2 in just short of two hours and set up a final clash with Naomi Osaka.
The injury left a slightly bitter taste after a night of world-class tennis on Arthur Ashe, with the ladies setting the bar high ahead of the men’s semi-finals on Friday.
Azarenka and Williams were both striking the ball ferociously – just as Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady had before them – and still maintained a remarkably high level, even after the injury suffered by the 23-time major winner.
It was the first time that Azarenka has beaten Williams in a Grand Slam after losing her first 10 attempts and she will contest a major final for the first time in seven years.
Both Azarenka and Osaka – who were due to meet in the final of the Western & Southern Open before Osaka withdrew with a hamstring injury – are on 10-match unbeaten runs. One of those win streaks will be brought to a grinding halt on Saturday.
They have won two Grand Slam titles apiece, but while Osaka has picked up two in the past two years, Azarenka has had to wait seven-and-a-half years since her last triumph.
Azarenka hardly put a foot wrong in her quarter-final win over Elise Mertens but got off to a nightmare start.
She served two double faults – one of which came on break point – and fell behind.
Williams also served two double faults in her opening service game but could rely on several bombs to squeeze her way out of trouble.
Things went from bad to worse for her opponent. A wild forehand flew wide as she surrendered a second break. By the 15-minute mark, she was 4-0 down.
She finally got on the board in the fifth game of the match but not after berating herself – ‘that’s so f***ing s**t’ – for missing a first serve, a very relatable moment for most club-level tennis players.
Another break for Williams brought the first set to a close and there were ropey moments for the Belarusian as she saved break points in her opening service game in the second.
Coming through that tight moment seemed to revitilise the former world No. 1 and Azarenka clinched a break of her own in the fifth game of the set with a rasping backhand cross-court.
Suddenly, it was Williams who was flat and Azarenka striking clean. Two break points were saved with unreturned serves – one down the T, one out wide – and Williams clung on to keep within touching distance.
Williams, however, didn’t win a point on her second serve during the entirety of the second set and it proved costly as Azarenka – who hit 12 winners and one unforced error in a close to flawless set – levelled the match.
In the second game of the third set, Williams bent over clutching her ankle at the back of the court and required a mid-game medical timeout at deuce.
She was able to continue but was broken moments later. Despite continuing to fight with all her might, it was Azarenka’s night.
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