The “Final Four” – Venus vs Sloane; Keys vs. Vandeweghe… for a trip to the 2017 U.S. Open Finals
Something quite extraordinary will be happening at the U.S. Open Thursday night. The Women’s singles semifinals will feature four American’s.
Ninth-seeded Venus Williams, who has won this championship twice, will face unseeded Sloane Stephens at 7:00pm EST. followed by a matchup between 15th-seeded Madison Keys and the No.20 seed Coco Vandeweghe.
This marks the first time four Americans have reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam event since Wimbledon in 1985 when the four semi-finalists included eventual champion, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Zina Garrison, and Kathy Rinaldi.
It hasn’t happened at the U.S. Open since 1981 when the final four consisted of Evert, Navratilova, Barbara Potter, and eventual champion Tracy Austin.
Two things make this situation particularly noteworthy. First, none of the four Americans is Serena Williams, who, as this is written, is celebrating the birth of her first child. And second, each of the four semifinalists had to deal with challenging circumstances to get to this point.
Venus Williams, of course, is the most celebrated of the four. The former world number one has won at Wimbledon five times and the U.S. Open twice. She reached the finals in Australia as recently as this past January. But she is also 37 years old and has dealt with her share of injuries through the course of a professional career that has extended for 23 years since she was 14. In recent years, she has been overshadowed by her younger sibling.
In her quarterfinal match, Williams put in the performance of the tournament, with a gutsy 3-set victory over sentimental favorite Petra Kvitova.
The 24-year old Stephens competed in the 2016 Olympics but was forced to withdraw from last year’s U.S. Open and wound up requiring foot surgery that kept her out of action for 11 months. The former World No.11 defeated three seeded players to reach the semifinals, including 11th-seeded Dominika Cibulková in the second round and 10th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in a third-set tiebreaker in the quarters, the player that ousted Maria Sharapova in the previous round. This is Stephens’ second Grand Slam semifinal, she lost to Elena Vesnina in Australia in 2013.
Keys scored her biggest win of the tournament by stopping fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina in three sets in the fourth round. The 22-year old reached the Australian Open semis in 2015 before falling to Serena Williams (she had defeated Venus Williams in the quarters).
Keys has struggled with injury issues; she missed the Australian Open this year in the wake of wrist surgery and underwent another operation on her wrist following the French Open but was able to play at Wimbledon.
Vandeweghe is making her second Grand Slam semifinal appearance of the year; she lost to Venus Williams in Australia. The 25-year old turned heads at the Open by beating World number one Karolina Pliskova in straight sets in the quarterfinals. She’s dealt with injury issues as well, notably an ankle injury that forced her to miss the close of the 2015 season. She was also forced to retire from a match in June of this year because of an ankle issue. With a new coach in Pat Cash and showing more patience and high level to her game, the New York born Vandeweghe has become a serious threat.
Thursday’s semifinals are truly a momentous occasion in the evolution of American tennis. The Williams sisters are still formidable of course, but they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, leaving open the question of who will step forward and become the face of the sport in this country. What happens Thursday night may begin to answer that question.