The U.S. Open women’s semifinals have arrived. The two Americans left standing (Serena Williams and Madison Keys) have been this far before at a major, while their opponents will each make their first Grand Slam semifinal appearance.
After two very straightforward WTA quarterfinal matches Wednesday, hopefully we can get some competitive matchups today. Let’s dive into both.
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Serena Williams (-495) vs. Anastasija Sevastova (+395)
Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
H2H: First meeting
Serena has played dominant tennis en route to the semifinals, dropping only one set. In her last match against her most formidable opponent of the tournament, Karolina Pliskova, Serena looked shaky early, but she quickly turned the match around after the Czech failed to convert a break point for a 5-1 lead. Serena never looked back, winning 11 of the final 14 games to move on in straight sets.
Sevastova will present a much different challenge, as the Latvian plays a very unique game. She’s also in outstanding form, having gone 17-2 since Wimbledon — and also clearly loves Queens. Sevastova reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open the previous two years and has now gone one step further this year, but has never even made it past the fourth round at any other major.
Serena has played five straightforward opponents who play aggressively and lack variety, especially relative to Sevastova, who has one of the game’s most effective defensive slices that can drive opponents mad.
Sevastova can move players all over the court, which she effectively did by changing the pace on countless Sloane Stephens forehands last round. She’ll have to do the same thing to Serena to have a chance. Her only realistic shot is to play the best defense of her career and counterattack to force Serena to be precise.
However, even if Sevastova plays the match of her life, the match will still be on Serena’s racket. And playing your first major semifinal against the greatest of all time can’t help the nerves, which Sevastova started to show in the quarterfinals.
It’s worth nothing that Serena has actually been upset in her past two U.S. Open semifinals by Pliskova and Roberta Vinci. Sevastova doesn’t have as high of a price tag as Vinci did (+1100), but she’ll have to utilize a similar defensive, scrappy game to shock the world.
Madison Keys (-150) vs. Naomi Osaka (+130)
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
H2H: Keys leads 3-0
Even though Serena is in action, this is today’s main event. Both Keys and Osaka have looked solid so far, but only Osaka has faced a high-quality opponent, in Aryna Sabalenka.
This has turned into a bit of a rivalry, thanks to an epic third-round match at the 2016 U.S. Open, their first meeting. After the pair split the first two sets, Osaka built a commanding 5-1 lead in the third. She looked destined for the fourth round, but then completely unraveled. Keys ultimately came back to win 7-3 in a tiebreaker.
Osaka was in tears after that match, but she’s grown physically and mentally since. And Keys has as well.
They met once earlier this year at the French Open, where Keys won in straight sets (6-1, 7-6). However, Osaka doesn’t fancy the clay, and while these conditions make the court somewhat similar, I expect a much closer match tonight.
Both will try to hit each other off the court when they have their feet set. Each has played with more margin this tournament, but Keys has taken more unnecessary risks at inopportune times. That could prove costly against the first opponent of the tourney who can really hurt her.
Osaka can take some confidence from her victory over the powerful, young Sabalenka, but Keys has a superior first serve that gets more free points and can hold up better under pressure. This is also a stage Osaka has never played on before. Keys will not only have the crowd and head-to-head advantage, but also the experience edge.
With that said, I only make Keys a -120 favorite. If you followed my Keys future recommendation from our tournament preview, I’m personally betting one unit on Osaka as a hedge. If you don’t have a Keys future, I think Osaka (and the over) are worth a look.