For the second straight year, Serena Williams has been shockingly upset in the US Open semifinals. Last year, she was taken out by a masterclass performance by Italian Roberta Vinci. This year, it was the Czech phenom Karolina Pliskova who got the better of the current World #1.
Pliskova is the biggest server on tour. She is the one player who might consistently hit the ball harder than Serena. Of course, there is a reason that Pliskova is not up at World #1 like Williams is. In fact, until Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Pliskova had never won a Premier-level title. This US Open is Pliskova’s first-ever trip to the second week of a Slam. In short, she might have the biggest serve, but she has never had the consistency or the all-around game to really make a splash at big tournaments. Until now.
Serena Williams Shocked for Second Straight Year in US Open Semifinal; Will Lose #1 Ranking
The match started out with an easy hold for Williams, and it looked like Pliskova might have been overawed by the occasion. Some big serves helped the Czech earn her first hold, and after that she controlled the match. Pliskova was swinging free on her return of serve and a few unanswerable returns earned an early break in the first set for 2-1. After that, it was all about the huge serve.
Serena Williams is one of, if not the very, best female tennis players of all time. But there was nothing she could do to make real inroads on the Pliskova serve. One or two great points a game, or a few nervous points from Pliskova, would give the World #1 a chance to look at getting the break back, but big serve after big serve snuffed out any half-chances. A poor game by the American at 2-4 gave away another break, and all of a sudden Pliskova was one set away after just 26 minutes. The stats from the set were incredible. Williams won only 25% of her second-serve points; she hit only five winners to 11 unforced errors. She never even earned a break point opportunity. Those are not stats we ever expect to see from Williams.
This was far from Williams’ best match. She did nothing particularly poorly, but she could not dictate play and her opponent just teed off on big groundstroke after big groundstroke from the middle of the court. Against most players, what Serena did might have been enough. But it wasn’t against Pliskova; not with the way she was playing.
The crowd could only watch in disbelief when Pliskova earned a break point in the first game of the second set. Williams dug deep to hold, but a poor game just a few games later gave Pliskova the break and a 3-2 lead in the second set. After that, it was a race. Could Pliskova earn three holds before her nerves caught up with her. The nerves were apparent as Pliskova hit numerous double faults, but the big serve was always there to bail her out in clutch moments.
The nerves won that race, in instant fashion. Pliskova played a poor game and was broken right back, to love. After trading holds three times, we were into a tiebreak for the second set. Pliskova opened the tiebreak with a minibreak, but a nervous double-fault evened it back up at 3-3. After Pliskova gave up a minibreak, Williams gave it right back with a double-fault of her own for 4-4. Williams just could never find a rhythm, giving away an all-important double-fault to end the match and lose 2-6 6-7(5).
With this loss, Serena Williams will fall from the #1 ranking for the first time since February, 2013. Regardless of what happens in the second semifinal tonight, Angelique Kerber will take over the top spot in the rankings. Williams has slightly better results than Kerber at the Slams this year (Serena has reached all four semifinals while Kerber lost in the first round at Roland Garros), but the German made up for that with better results at other tournaments, aided by Serena’s injuries that kept her out for much of the first few months of the season.
This will be disappointing for Serena Williams, who has been trying all summer to hold on to the ranking and break Steffi Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks at #1. The injuries earlier in the year did not make it easy for Williams, but she managed to make it all the way to September. Had Kerber beaten Pliskova in the final in Cincinnati two-and-a-half weeks ago, Williams would have ended with 184 consecutive weeks. Now that Kerber will move up to #1 on Monday, Williams ends her reign at 186 weeks–tied with Graf for the most consecutive all-time.
It is one of those strange ironies that only sports can seem to provide. Pliskova was Williams’ savior in Cincinnati when she took out Kerber in the final. Had Kerber won that match, Serena’s streak would have ended then. Tonight, though, Pliskova became Graf’s savior, taking out Williams before she could claim sole possession of the record.
Pliskova will play the winner of Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber in the final on Saturday. It will be the Czech’s first Grand Slam final.