NEW YORK – Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens did their part.
You’re up, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.
The 37-year-old Williams and the 24-year-old Stephens both survived third-set tiebreak wins by near-identical scores Tuesday at the US Open.
The fact that both advanced to the women’s singles semifinals, and will play each other, guarantees there will be at least one American woman in Saturday’s final.
In the day session, Stephens continued her wondrous month of winning with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova. It is a run that has taken her from outside the top 900 in July to just outside the top 30 with her effort here.
She’s already almost all the way back to where she was before a foot injury suffered last summer required surgery in January.
“A month ago, before I started winning a lot of matches, I was really worried, about my protected ranking, not having enough tournaments, not being able to play,” Stephens said during her on-court interview. “Once I realized my life is good, I play tennis, I have fun every day, that relieved a lot of stress. I was able to play loose, play my game and – Bam! Semifinals.”
Stephens calm, cool and eager
The tennis during her win over Sevastova of Latvia wasn’t necessarily the best. But it was very good at times.
And the drama was topnotch as Stephens looked to be running out of energy in the middle of the second set.
But she fought. Calm-looking on the outside, there was nothing of the pre-absence Stephens who sometimes could look as though she wasn’t as invested in the outcome as maybe she should have been.
She was down a break in the third set – very nearly, two breaks. Stephens got that back, and then went down a break again.
The American kept running, even when her legs were probably telling her to stop. She fought as she never used to fight. And she won.
“Yeah, it’s incredible, amazing. Like I said before, if someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semifinals or making, well, three semifinals back-to-back, I would have said they’re crazy. Just happy to be playing really well and happy that my foot is good and I don’t have any pain and my body is holding up,” she said.
Venus v Kvitova: perseverance personified
Noisy Arthur Ashe Stadium was one-way traffic for Stephens’ match against Sevastova.
For the first night match, Williams had to face off against Petra Kvitova, already a popular player and one whose emotional and near-miraculous comeback from a horrific home invasion has struck a chord with tennis fans.
Still, this is America’s Slam. And Venus, at 37, perhaps has never been more appreciated or revered as she has thrived through some personal trials of her own.
The tennis was superb, as it has so often been when these two power players have met before. Both women were on the attack – and both were fighting on defense with everything they had. Most of the points were short, and the velocity was breathtaking.
Up a set but down 0-3 in the second, the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed because of some expected thunderstorms. All that did was ensure the place would be even noisier by the time the players were deep into the third set.
By the end of it, Williams had several chances to break Kvitova and close it out at 5-6 in the third. She had an open court for her forehand, but she missed it in the net. She had a very makeable return on a second serve, but sent it sailing long.
So the momentum coming into the deciding tiebreaker was not with Williams.
Champion rises at key moment
But like a champion, Williams regained it with the snap of a finger and played an absolutely brilliant decider to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2). She lost her visor in the middle of it. No matter. She was called for a foot fault on match point. No matter.
“Our last few matches, I mean, if you can imagine the quality of this match was high, I would say the others were even higher. A lot of times in those matches I just felt a little unlucky. Like she would hit these amazing shots out of nowhere, and all I could do was say, ‘well done’. I never really did anything wrong in those matches,” Williams said. “Sometimes you have opportunities and sometimes you take them and you don’t But it’s not like you get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity in these sorts of matches. You have to take the ones you have. I was happy to have a little more luck today, actually.”
Arthur Ashe Stadium opened 20 years ago, and that was Williams’ first US Open, as a 17-year-old. She made the final, losing to Martina Hingis. Williams won the single title in 2000 and 2001, but hasn’t come close again since making the final in 2002 – 15 years ago. She has reached the semis only twice since then.
Reaching the Australian Open final earlier this year was already quite a feat. Williams has won more matches at Grand Slam tournaments this year than any other player.
But winning in New York, at 37? Off the charts.
Can she win two more?
“I think she can. I hope so, actually,” Kvitova said, smiling.
“Sport is, you know, a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going. Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for,” Williams said. “You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”
Two more Americans Wednesday
Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, the two Americans in the second set of quarterfinals Thursday, will have a tough act to follow after what Williams and Stephens did on Tursday.
But four Americans in the semifinals?
The younger folks might not remember. But for Williams, when she was coming up in the game, it was situation normal.
Perhaps, if you stick around long enough, everything good comes around again.
“There was a time in tennis, when all my rivals were American. (Jennifer) Capriati and (Lindsay) Davenport and Monica Seles. So I love to see these young Americans coming up playing big,” Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. “I would love to have that again – top four, top five playing in the semifinals.
“That would be huge.”