Serena Williams quest for an historic 24 th Grand Slam singles title came to a stunning end 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 of 24 Grand Slam singles titles 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 have been working on finding a calm mind and keep the body going, ” the Belarusian said in her on- court interview .
“ She dug me in a big hole in the first set .
I needed to find energy to climb out of the hole and it wasn ’ t easy . ”
A lengthy custody battle with her former partner over their three- year – old son, Leo , kept her away for several spells and took its toll on and off court , while her confidence ebbed away .
This was the former world No 1 ’ s first slam semi – final since her second consecutive final against Williams in New York in 2013 , both of which were high – quality , close affairs but both were won by the American .
But this was every bit as good , with Azarenka continuing the form that saw her lose just one game against Elise Mertens in the quarter- finals .
Williams , by contrast, had survived three – set battles against Sloane Stephens , Maria Sakkari and Tsvetana Pironkova but crushed any suggestion of vulnerability in a pulsating start .
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 .
Suddenly it was Williams needing to change the momentum , and what she certainly did not need was an injury .
The 38- year – old clutched her left Achilles heel as Azarenka made it deuce in the second game of the deciding set , and the Belarusian broke after a lengthy medical timeout .
Powered Williams threw everything she had at Azarenka as she tried to claw her way back into the match , her screams reverberating around the empty Arthur Ashe Stadium .
But Azarenka held her nerve superbly and got the sweetest of rewards , sealing victory with an ace for her first win over Williams at a Grand Slam in 11 tries .
Osaka won a power battle against Jennifer Brady to march back into the US Open final .
The 2018 champion, who was watched by her rapper boyfriend Cordae , has hit top form again at Flushing Meadows and came out on top of a high – quality match to triumph 7 – 6 ( 7 – 1 ) 3 – 6 6 – 3 .
Brady has been the breakout star of the tournament and her performance here showed that America has yet another woman who can challenge for major titles .
But that honour here will go to Osaka , who will take on Azarenka in her third major final .
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They were supposed to meet in the final of the Western & Southern Open , played this year in Flushing Meadows immediately before the US Open, but Osaka withdraw because of a hamstring injury .
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