Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka will contest the 2020 US Open final after both players put up gritty displays to overcome American opponents in the semifinals under the closed roofs of the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday.
Unseeded Belarussian Azarenka finally got the better of Serena Williams in a Grand Slam as she recovered from a shaky start to end the American’s latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Williams, 38, seeking to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record for majors, raced away with the first set but lost 1-6 6-3 6-3 to the inspired former world number one.
The American appeared to be hindered by an ankle problem for which she called a medical timeout in the third set.
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka, 31, was playing her first Grand Slam semi-final since 2013 which also came in New York.
And while she has been in fantastic form in recent weeks, having won 10 matches in a row prior to this encounter and claiming victory in the Western & Southern Open just before the US Open, she appeared a little short of confidence early on and took some time to find her range.
Williams and Azarenka were once regular opponents on the biggest stages – but this was their first encounter in the latter stages of a Grand Slam since a Wimbledon quarter-final in 2015.
The two good friends have had maternity leaves since then and Azarenka’s career was also stalled by a lengthy custody battle over her son.
Williams had dominated their head-to-heads, winning 18 of their 22 encounters until now, including back-to-back wins in the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals. And until now she had won all 10 of their Grand Slam matches.
That statistic appeared to play on Azarenka’s mind as Williams strolled to the first set, but Azarenka showed admirable belief to turn the game around to qualify for her third US Open final.
Williams will now seek her next opportunity to equal Court’s record later this month at the rescheduled French Open.
Azarenka’s opponent in Saturday’s final Naomi Osaka produced a high-quality performance to edge past American Jennifer Brady in the first semifinal.
The 22-year-old Japanese fourth seed who won the 2018 title, edged an enthralling first set with a dominant tie-break before Brady, 25, impressively rallied to force a deciding set.
Both maintained a high level at the start of the third before Osaka took control to win 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-3.
Osaka followed up her maiden Grand Slam victory in New York with another triumph at the Australian Open five months later, but then struggled to cope with the increased pressure of being the world’s top-ranked player and failed to make it past the Round of 16 at subsequent slams.
Now, after dropping to 10th before the coronavirus pandemic struck, she has returned looking again like a player who could go on to dominate the sport and is now in line for a third Grand Slam title and a second at the US Open.