NEW YORK, NY, USA - Who will join Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens in the US Open semifinals? Wednesday's slate of quarterfinal matches features the three biggest servers left in the tournament, in Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, and CoCo Vandeweghe and one dangerously powerful woman in Kaia Kanepi.
Pliskova, who leads the remaining field in aces, is looking to continue her quest to retain the WTA World No.1 ranking when she faces 25-year-old Vandeweghe during the day session. Pliskova must make the final to retain the top spot, otherwise Garbiñe Muguruza will overtake her on Monday.
The second quarterfinal puts Keys back under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium when she takes on 32-year-old Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi, who is riding a 12 match win-streak through the ITFs, qualifying and main draw. Keys and Vandeweghe are looking to put four Americans into the semifinals at the US Open for the first time since 1981.
A look at the quarterfinal match-ups:
No.1 Karolina Pliskova vs. No.20 CoCo Vandeweghe (Tied 2-2)
Last year, Karolina Pliskova saved match point to beat Venus Williams in the Round of 16 at the US Open and went on to make her first major final. This year, she saved match point in the third round against Zhang Shuai.
"It's a good sign to save match point," Pliskova said with a laugh. "It's just a good sign if you can get through this match, and then you can feel much better."
Pliskova let out a huge of relief after her 47-minute win over Jennifer Brady in the Round of 16. Finally, after back-to-back matches that saw her pushed to the brink and struggling to find her game, it all came together in the fourth round.
"Hopefully, I'm going to feel much better and enjoy the tennis. So I was not really enjoying myself the first three matches. I'd like to start to enjoy a little bit more."
Pliskova's US Open has felt reminiscent of her run to the semifinals at Roland Garros, where she struggled against lower-ranked opposition until finally finding her form in the quarterfinals.
She'll need to step up against CoCo Vandeweghe, who has looked in top-notch form throughout the tournament. The American scored two good wins against opponents who have dominated her in the past, beating Agnieszka Radwanska in three sets and Lucie Safarova in two to advance to her first US Open quarterfinal.
"I guess she just loves the crowd and the big stage, so she's going to always play well here on center court," Pliskova said. "It will be tough. I played her last time in Stuttgart, I think, so it was clay, a little bit of a different story. Obviously she has a big serve. Different match or opposite matches than I had so far this tournament, so it's not many girls who are playing that fast and with that serve and that speed."
Indeed, it will be power for power when Pliskova and Vandeweghe face off, though to say they have similar games is to oversimplify things.
"I would not really put me and her together," Pliskova said. "Like not even personally. We both have the plan to play aggressive but I think she's a little bit - not messy sometimes - but she's just going for her shots. Even if she just misses like five meters out, she doesn't care. So it's different. It's not my game style."
Pliskova hits a flatter ball, while Vandeweghe's pace is heavier and built around her desire to finish points at the net. She will surely test Pliskova's abilities in the corners and on the run, putting pressure on the Czech to come up with quality passing shots.
"I think it's definitely the first strike kind of tennis, I think is the easiest way to simplify it," Vandeweghe said. "If I'm hitting my shots, I'm definitely doing a lot better job in the scoreline than she is and vice versa. So I think it's pretty much as simple as that."
No.15 Madison Keys vs. Kaia Kanepi (Keys leads 1-0)
Madison Keys has gone nocturnal at this year's US Open. The 22-year-old has played nearly all her matches at night on Ashe, and the raucous late-night atmosphere has come to suit her.
"Let's just change the whole tournament," she joked, after her comeback win over No.4 Elina Svitolina in the Round of 16. "We'll start at 10 p.m. every night. Clearly I'm on that schedule already, might as well stay on it.
"Going to bed at 4 a.m. every morning and waking up at 11, it's not totally natural and normal. But now I'm afraid to play in the sun because I haven't done it in two weeks, so... I'm fine with playing at night."
Keys will get her wish on Wednesday when she takes on Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi, who is bidding to be the 26th unseeded player to advance to a Grand Slam semifinal since 2001 Wimbledon. Kanepi has some recent history on her side. At least one unseeded player has reached the semifinal stage at each of the last eight majors. The 32-year-old, who is playing her first main draw at a Slam in two years due to injury, is trying to become just the third qualifier to ever reach a Slam semifinal.
Few can match Keys' power off the ground, but Kanepi comes close. Her weight of shot has blasted through a field that includes Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, as her audacious power game has been a simple one: grip and rip.
"I think making less errors than she does, because we are both aggressive players," Kanepi said, when asked about her gameplan."She hits hard and she wants to win points fast. And I'm the same."
Keys is looking to advance to her first Slam semifinal since the 2015 Australian Open, and she's ready to do her part to book four Americans into the semifinals. Kanepi is looking to snap her 0-5 record in Slam quarterfinals. Something's gotta give.