Andy Schooler previews Wednesday’s action at the US Open with the last semi-final places up for grabs in New York.
Victoria Azarenka v Elise Mertens
Azarenka’s winning streak has now reached nine matches and I like her chances of moving into double figures.
The Belarusian is playing her best tennis since becoming a mother with this current run, which took in the title at last week’s Western and Southern Open at this Flushing Meadows venue, bringing back memories of her two finals here in 2012 and 2013. On both occasions she gave Serena Williams a real run for her money.
Maybe that long-awaited title is just around the corner.
Azarenka has been beating good players – Alize Cornet, Jo Konta, Aryna Sabalenka, Karolina Muchova – with her returning being particularly noteworthy.
She’s been creating break points for fun – 17 in both of her last two matches – with her renowned defence in good working order.
Mertens spoke about how she was pleased with her first serve during Monday’s win over the second seed Sofia Kenin – she won 75% of points behind that particular delivery - but she’ll need to hit the high notes on it again here.
Interestingly, Kenin is Azarenka’s doubles partner so will doubtless have given her a debrief on her last-16 defeat.
The Belgian, herself in good form after a semi-final run last week and smooth progress through this draw, has never met the former world number one but I feel Azarenka’s game is well equipped to deal with what Mertens will bring to the court and am happy to back her around 4/5.
Daniil Medvedev v Andrey Rublev
These two have met three times in the past, Medvedev winning each time in straight sets.
That’s hardly encouraging for Rublev but the younger of these two Russians will take great heart from Monday’s victory over Matteo Berrettini.
He went into that contest with a similarly-poor head-to-head record and it looked as if he was heading to another defeat when Berrettini dominated the opening set.
Yet Rublev turned the match around very impressively and he didn’t lose serve in any of the next three sets. Once he got a handle on his opponent’s deal he was by far the better player, regularly pulling the Italian around the court in the long rallies.
The problem here is Medvedev is a more complete player than Berrettini, who had no Plan B once his big-hitting game had been figured out.
His added variety won’t give Rublev as much rhythm and you have to fancy the man who is yet to drop a set in the tournament and who made Frances Tiafoe look distinctly average in the last round.
Rublev may be able to grab a set if he plays the lights-out tennis he produced the other day – a 3-1 Medvedev win is an 11/4 shot – but I expect the 2/7 favourite to ultimately reach the semis.
Alex de Minaur v Dominic Thiem
The night-session semi also features a match-up which has been rather one-sided in the past.
Thiem won 6-4 6-1 6-1 when the pair met here three years ago, although De Minaur was only 18 at the time.
The following year the Australian did grab a set on Thiem’s favourite clay surface but lost their Davis Cup rubber in four.
This should be De Minaur’s best shot yet given his improvement over the past couple of years.
So often compared to his mentor, Lleyton Hewitt, De Minaur’s retrieving skills should at least make Thiem work hard for any win. Long rallies should be in evidence.
But I doubt De Minaur will hurt Thiem too much in terms of aggression – that approach didn’t work for Felix Auger-Aliassime on Monday as the second seed brushed him aside.
And if he can’t punch holes in Thiem’s also-excellent defence, then I’m not sure how De Minaur can win this match.
He’s struggled against the elite in the past, winning only four of 18 meetings with top-10 opponents. Ten of those losses have come in straight sets.
With Thiem in great form, it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see that outcome again – it’s a 6/5 shot.
Preview posted 0700 BST on 09/09/2020