Supermums set up tantalising US Open semi-final

Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka will meet for the 23rd time in the last four at Flushing Meadows on Thursday.

Serena Williams Victoria Azarenka IW 2019©C.Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

“Can it get any better?”

Victoria Azarenka said with a smile stretching from cheek to cheek, back in a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time since the 2013 US Open.

“For me it cannot. It's an amazing opportunity for me, to play against a great champion and my friend. I'm excited."

Nostalgic flashbacks

“I love playing against Serena. I think we have one of the best matches - at least that I played in my career - against her. We always played on big stages. It was a lot of big fights. She's one of the players who push me to the limit, who makes me better.

It's been a while since we played (2019 Indian Wells Serena won 7-5, 6-3). I think the semi-final of a Grand Slam is a different stage. It's going to be a different fight. I'm looking forward to it.”

Williams, seeking that illusive 24th major and first Grand Slam title since she gave birth in 2017, dominates their head-to-head record at 18-4, undefeated in their 10 Grand Slam encounters.

“Vika and I had some amazing finals here, they were really tough matches. She’s playing really well this summer winning Cincinnati,” stated 38-year-old Serena, prevailing in deciding sets during their 2012-13 epics on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

So I’ve got my work cut out, it’s not over. I’m happy I can keep fighting, but I’ve got to play better.”

The theme ahead of the women’s quarter-finals was “supermums”.

“Just shows me how tough Mums are."

First up, Williams was forced to recover from a set deficit for the third successive match against surprise package Tsvetana Pironkova.

The unranked Bulgarian hadn’t played a tournament in over three seasons prior to the US Open and gave her fellow mum a true test.

“Just shows me how tough Mums are. Whenever you can birth a baby, honestly you can do anything. I think we saw that with Tsvetana today, she played unbelievable,” hailed Serena, producing a catalogue of cannonball shots to eventually overpower Pironkova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Vika, another "supermum"

For Azarenka Wednesday was another demonstration of her renaissance in 2020. Relentless, calculated play swatted aside 16th seed Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 courtesy of 21 arrowed winners.

Vika, another “supermum” in the draw, was evoking the game that got her to the top ranking and was in her element, with meditation poses at the change of ends after the first set, with frequent swaying from side to side to dance to the DJ’s eclectic mix of tracks.

World No.27 Azarenka is evidently relishing being back on the major stage, with a wave of positivity in her on court persona.

Now to disrupt Serena’s storyline.

"The match is never going to be over”

One factor in Azarenka’s favour is that the American is enduring slow starts during this US Open campaign.

“I was definitely feeling it in my legs and an hour in I got more energy. I guess that’s a good thing that I don’t finish tired,” reflected Serena.

“I can’t keep doing it if I want to win, so I need to figure that out, how to start faster.”

20 aces propelled Williams past Pironkova and kept the six-time US Open champion on course for another milestone. Azarenka knows all too well from their past 22 duels what to expect.

"I always know one thing: the match is never over. I think the same goes on the other side. No matter what the score is, the match is never going to be over.”

Can it get any better?

Unlike numerous opponents facing Serena, Azarenka won’t be intimidated or daunted by the occasion. The freedom and vigour to dismantle Mertens’ game was a true signal of intent from the Belarusian.

“It took me a long road to come here with a lot of struggles, a lot of understanding, forcing me to find this route, this path. But I'm here and I'm happy,” mused a content Azarenka.

“Being in the semi-final of a Grand Slam is a blessing for sure, it's an amazing opportunity. The way I feel about myself, about my tennis, about my life, is the biggest win for me right now.

“Hopefully it's just the beginning for me and I continue to go on this path.”

Serena seeking history, Vika reinvigorated and fearless, can it get any better?