Serena Williams was already struggling to keep up in a fast-paced US Open semi-final when she stopped short of baseline and leaned forward after a third set point. She held this pose a little, then clutched her left lower leg and asked for a trainer.
While Williams took medical break for a band job because she later said it was an Achilles edition – her last offer for a 24th Grand Slam single title that was apparently lost – her opponent Victoria Azarenka sat with closed Eyes and calm in a seat next to you and composed as possible.
After a delay of about five minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium, action resumed and while Williams increased the power of their shots and the volume of their shouts, it was Azarenka who scored a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday Sieg celebrated returning to a major championship final for the first time in seven years.
"Maybe," said Williams, "at some point I took a little too much off the accelerator."
The loss left her just before the 24th record.
She was beaten in the finals of four of the previous seven slams, including Flushing Meadows in 2018 and 2019.
"I mean, it's obviously disappointing. At the same time, I've done what I could today," said Williams, who has six US Open singles trophies. "I feel like I've been around other times and it is could have done better. Today I felt I had given a lot. "
With her 39th birthday in just over two weeks, the question will arise: How many chances does Williams have left? She later confirmed that she was going to Paris. The French Open starts on September 27th.
As for the Achilles, Williams said she stretched them while chasing a ball during one of the lengthy baseline exchanges with Azarenka, but she wouldn't blame him for the loss.
"I don't think that has anything to do with it," said Williams, who jumped to her feet at the baseline repeatedly when the game returned. "In the end it didn't affect my game at all."
In Saturday's final, Azarenka will face Naomi Osaka in a meeting between two-time great champions who both ranked # 1 in the past and were by far the top two players since tennis resumed last month after a pandemic hiatus.
Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and lost to Williams in the final of the US Open in those two years.
She's finally back in a major title match.
"What's the difference? I mean, mentally I'm in such a different place. I think seven years ago after I won the Australian Open and all and played consistently with good results, it was kind of me not expected, but somehow expected that I would be in the final. I don't think that was the case this year, ”said Azarenka, a 31-year-old from Belarus who is 27th.
"But it feels funnier, more fulfilling, and more enjoyable for me this year," she said. "It feels good. More beautiful."
This was Williams' fourth straight three in New York and although she was far better early on Thursday, taking a 4-0 lead within 15 minutes, Azarenka finally took off.
Proof of Azarenka's brilliance: She put together 12 winners and only one casual mistake in the second set, then continued her baseline championship in the third set, particularly with her backhand.
That brought her to her first win against Williams in eleven Grand Slam matchups between the two.
After a full calendar year without a single tour-level win, Azarenka has won eleven games in a row. Osaka's streak is 10 after her 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 win over Jennifer Brady in a tough semi-final full of fast serves and strong foreheads.
Two weeks ago, Azarenka and Osaka were scheduled to play in the final of the Western & Southern Open – a hard court event that was moved this year as part of a "controlled environment" with two tournaments with the US Open from Ohio to New York amid the pandemic – but Osaka withdrew because of an injured left Achilles tendon.
"It's going to be super fun," said Azarenka, who was sitting in her assigned suite in Ashe to see some of Osaka versus Brady. "She plays amazing."
Osaka had her left leg wrapped for her high-quality semi-final on the pitch where she beat Williams for the 2018 title.
"It means a lot to me. I consider New York my second home," said Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the United States as a child. "I love the atmosphere, although there are no people here. I feel this dish suits me well. "
Suitable for both players.
Osaka served at up to 120 miles per hour; Brady reached 117 mph. And they hit the ball as soon as it was in play, especially from the forehand side.
“I just felt like I was going to stick it out. It felt like we were trading serve, ”Osaka said. "I tried to adjust their serve a little in the third set so that might have helped."
They combined for 70 winners – 35 apiece – to just 42 easy mistakes, each as good as the other, and it took a bit of luck to swing things around after 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Then, at 2-1 in the third set, Osaka earned their first break point with a backhand that cut the mesh ribbon and ran. She was able to convert the chance when she hit a deep return of 110 mph, and Brady's backhand response was labeled long – although a telev replay showed that she actually got a bit off the back of the baseline.
Brady did not appeal the verdict.
Ashe is one of only two courts at the US Open to use linesmen this year. To reduce the number of people on site, electronic phone calls were made in the other arenas.
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