NEW YORK -- Aryna Sabalenka became the first woman since Serena Williams (2019-20) to reach back-to-back semifinals at the US Open. The No.6 seed defeated No.22 Karolina Pliskova 6-1, 7-6 (4) on Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
This one came a lot easier than the three-set comeback against Danielle Collins in the previous round and her second-round match in which she saved two match points versus Kaia Kanepi. Sabalenka has now won her past three Grand Slam singles quarterfinals -- the only three of her career -- in straight sets.
“I think I start really well, and the first set was really high level for me and put a lot of pressure on her,” Sabalenka told reporters later. “First set was really great. In the second set, I knew she will kind of trying to come back and she will do better. I just tried to hold my serve and try to put her under pressure on her serve.”
Next up for Sabalenka is a date with No.1 Iga Swiatek, who Wednesday night knocked off No.8 Jessica Pegula in straight sets.
“Semifinal, it’s going to be tough,” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview. “I’m ready for another fight. I have to stay focused on myself.”
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Sabalenka has now won five consecutive matches for the first time since … last year’s US Open.
The last time Sabalenka and Pliskova met in a Grand Slam event, the semifinals a year ago at Wimbledon, there were major fireworks. Sabalenka hit 18 aces and Pliskova 14 -- the most in a WTA match over the past two years. But it was Pliskova who prevailed in three sets.
This time, it was double faults that defined the trajectory in the early going. Pliskova had three in her first two service games -- and lost both of them. Sabalenka ran out to a 4-0 lead before Pliskova finally held serve.
While both players survived three-set matches in the previous round, Pliskova’s 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2 win against Victoria Azarenka ran longer than three hours -- her longest in three years.
Sabalenka broke Pliskova’s serve for the third time to take the first set, when the Czech player struck two more double faults and Sabalenka hauled off three forehand winners. Sabalenka finished the frame with 10 winners -- nine more than Pliskova, who had 15 unforced errors.
With Sabalenka serving at 2-all in the second set, she unleashed three aces and, finally, another unreturnable serve that gave her a 3-2 lead. She held again, for 4-3, when four big serves pulled her out of a love-30 hole. And while her forehand began to break down, she came up with some effective second serves to bring it to 5-4 – on the way to a tiebreak.
The pivotal blow in the extra session was an unexpected 103 mph second-serve ace. The final flourish was a forehand return winner down the line.
Sabalenka had seven aces and 22 of her 59 serves were not returned (57 percent).
Fourteen months ago, Sabalenka got to her first career semifinal at Wimbledon. Heading into her third, she said, she’s a completely different person.
“I was almost about to cry in the match to break through in the first week. Then I was in the semifinal, and then it was a lot of expectations. I felt like, 'OK, I think this is my time, I’m going to win it.'
"I would say that I didn’t expect [Pliskova] to play that well. I expect me to win the rest of the matches really easy. And then I had another experience in the [US Open] semifinal. Again, I lost it.
She’ll return to the Top 5 if she reaches the final. Pliskova fell for the fourth straight time in the US Open quarterfinals, but is projected to be back in the Top 20 on Monday.