Serena Williams’ campaign for an historic 24th Grand Slam singles title came to a halt against old foe Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals of the US Open in the early hours of Friday morning.
Williams was not helped by a jarred Achilles injury early in the deciding set that required heavy strapping and her quest to equal Margaret Court’s record goes on.
Instead, it is two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka who will face Naomi Osaka in a quite remarkable story of resurgence.
The 31-year-old had been a shadow of her former self since her stop-start return from maternity leave in 2017 and had almost been written off as a major contender prior to her victory on the same courts in the Western & Southern Open last month.
“I knew it wasn’t over at 5-3,” said the Belarusian. “I’ve been there before. Today was going to be different. I was young, my ego was way too big. Now it’s a little smaller and the result’s coming.”
The presence of so many mothers in the draw and in the latter stages of the tournament has been a major talking point, and Azarenka hopes she can encourage other women to aim high.
“Hopefully it inspires women to go after their dreams,” she said. “I feel like you can’t always identify yourself as just one thing. You have many things you can do in your life.
“Being a parent is the most important thing in my life but I’m a tennis player on the court, I’m a fighter on the court and, when I go after my dreams, inspire my child and I hope that women around the world know they can do anything because being a parent is the toughest thing so once you can balance that you can do anything.”
— wta (@WTA) September 11, 2020
Azarenka helped her with a nervy first service game and Williams needed no second invitation to crush her opponent’s weaker second serve.
In no time she was 4-0 up, and in just 34 minutes she wrapped up the opening set.
It seemed a minor setback when Williams missed the chance to break for 2-0 in the second set, but that gave Azarenka a foothold and she grabbed it. She began to dictate from the middle of the court, marching to her chair after breaking for a second time to win the set.
“I started really strong,” said Williams. “Then she just kept fighting. She just changed and started playing better and better. Maybe I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point. She played really well.
“It’s obviously disappointing. At the same time, I did what I could today. I feel like other times I’ve been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot.”