The US Open women’s singles semi-finals will get underway at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Friday but one can’t help shake the feeling that the person who goes on to lift the trophy will be anyone except Serena Williams.
Such has been the American’s dominance over the course of her career that she still remains the woman to beat, even after making a comeback from a lengthy lay-off due to the birth of her first child.
Her Grand Slam return in this year’s French Open ended in a whimper after an injury forced her to withdraw from a much-anticipated fourth round clash against Maria Sharapova.
However, her run to the Wimbledon final shows that her appetite for success in the big tournaments remain, even if her record in WTA tournaments since her return have been forgettable.
Standing in Serena’s path will be Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, who is currently in the midst of the best run of her career. The 28-year old took a tumultuous path to reach where she is, having retired from the game in 2013 before making a comeback nearly two years later.
Sevastova’s overall record in the professional circuit (3 WTA titles and no Grand Slam wins) makes her the definite underdog in this encounter. That being said, it’s worth noting that she beat defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens to enter the last-four, meaning Williams would do well not to take her lightly.
The other semi-final pits two promising youngsters up against each other. America’s Madison Keys, who made the final of the tournament in 2017, will undoubtedly be itching to right the wrongs of last year when she lost in straight sets to compatriot Stephens.
That loss meant Keys missed out on the opportunity to become the first American woman aside from either of the Williams sisters to win the US Open since 1998. But her experience at the highest level means she will go into this match as the favourite.
Her opponent Naomi Osaka, on the other hand, is no stranger to making history. By entering the semis at Flushing Meadows, Osaka became the first Japanese woman to make the last-four of any Grand Slam in 22 years.
That is an amazing achievement for any player regardless of their stature, but when one considers the fact that Osaka turned professional in 2013 and is only 20 years old, it further adds to the belief that she has a bright future in the sport. Whether or not right now is her time to shine remains to be seen.
Serena’s stranglehold over women’s tennis remains strong despite her struggles with pregnancy and post-natal depression. But her wobbly run of form leading up to the Grand Slam means that the US Open might well crown a third first-time women’s champion in four years.