In one of the two all-American semi-finals in the women’s singles, two-time former champion Venus Williams takes on unseeded Sloane Stephens, whose comeback from injury continues. Stephens showed great early promise, reaching the semi-finals at the Australian Open and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon four years ago. The potential failed to amount to consistent results but since her return from injury, her form has been superb. Williams, meanwhile, has long been somewhat overshadowed by her younger sister, but in Serena’s absence, is enjoying a terrific year. But who will walk away triumphant from the third match on Arthur Ashe?
Williams and Stephens have met just once so far in their careers. That meeting came two years ago in the first round of the French Open and was won by Stephens. The first set was a tight affair, with Williams forcing a tie break. But Stephens managed to emerge victorious from it, and an early break gave her all the momentum in the second set. She held onto it, sealing the victory quickly to progress a 7-6 6-1 winner. However, despite leading the head-to-head, Stephens trails Williams in experience. The elder American made her professional debut when Stephens was just a one-year-old. She has seven Grand Slam singles titles, whilst Stephens is competing in only her second Major semi-final. Williams also has 49 singles titles and 766 match wins. In contrast, Stephens has 225 match wins and four titles.
Path to the semi-finals
Williams began her US Open campaign against Viktoria Kuzmova, a teenage qualifier from Slovakia. Little was expected of Kuzmova, particularly after she dropped the first set. But the Slovakian fought back well to level the match. Williams, however, raised her game to break Kuzmova twice and seal the win. Williams then overcame another two young guns, Oceane Dodin of France and Maria Sakkari of Greece in straight sets to reach the fourth round. There she was again pushed to a decider by clay court specialist and former top 10 player Carla Suarez Navarro. But Williams was able to raise her game in the third set and she dropped just one more game in sealing the win.
Her quarter-final match against Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, was a thriller. Kvitova, who had upset Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round, had the support of much of the tennis world as she continues her return from a hand wound inflicted by a home invader. Williams took the first set 6-3, but Kvitova levelled the match by taking the second set by the reverse score. The pair could not be separated in the decider, and it went to a tie break. Williams had enough left in the tank to emerge victorious, winning it 7-2 to return to the US Open semi-finals for the first time since 2010.
Sloane Stephens opened against Roberta Vinci. The Italian made the final in New York just two years ago, losing to Flavia Pennetta, but success has been sparse since. Vinci battled hard in the first set, but after losing it to a late break she was overrun in the second. Stephens was forced to go the distance against Dominika Cibulkova in the second round but emerged triumphant winning 6-2 5-7 6-3. Stephens won comfortably against Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the third round, dropping only six games. But she was made to work hard in the fourth round and quarter-finals, where she faced Julia Gorges and Anastasija Sevastova respectively. Stephens was pushed to three sets in both matches but managed to win through to the semi-finals.
How do they match up?
Both women are big hitters. Tennis in general has become increasingly dominated by power players over the last two decades, a trend that is particularly pronounced on the WTA Tour. There are few with more pedigree though than Venus. She is rock solid off both her forehand and backhand when she is at her best. She is also able to hit winners from both wings and has become an accomplished volleyer as her career has progressed. Her serve is also amongst the most potent in the women’s game. Stephens’ game seems to have been built to compete with the Williams sisters, and she possesses many of the same attributes as them.
She has a fine backhand, and is generally comfortable trading off that wing, and is one of the best volleyers on tour. Her forehand is both her biggest strength and weakness. When it is at its best she can strike winners with impunity with it. But, her long swing can lead her vulnerable to being rushed, costing her errors. Stephens also often defends from deep behind the baseline. However, against Williams, she would be better served by playing closer to the baseline. If she allows Williams to impose herself from the baseline, the match will only have one winner.
This has all the makings of a tight match. Williams brings great experience to the table, whilst Stephens is in great form having won 13 of her last 15 matches. She also seems to have found a new approach to her game that has seen her in a more positive mindset. But, just as she wasn’t able to make the final in Toronto and Cincinnati, it will be one step too far for her in New York. Williams’ greater fitness and her experience of playing in big matches should be enough to see her through. Williams in three.
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