Serena Williams looked supreme in the first set as a US Open final rematch against Naomi Osaka beckoned; but Azarenka fought back superbly to win 1-6 6-3 6-3
Serena Williams’ quest for an historic 24th 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, September 11.
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 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.”
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 Serena 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.