After tipping Victoria Azarenka to win her quarter-final, Andy Schooler previews Thursday’s women’s semi-finals at the US Open, where he expects Azarenka's clash with Serena Williams to be a cracker.
Jennifer Brady v Naomi Osaka
It’s been some year for Jennifer Brady and it’s hard not to have been impressed with her power game so far at the US Open.
She’s blasted her way to the semi-finals without losing a set. Indeed, only one of her 10 sets has even gone as far as 6-4.
However, this is another big step up. While her run has been eye-catching, the fact is Angie Kerber, the 17th seed, is the highest-ranked player she’s beaten so far.
Osaka is the fourth seed – not to mention the 2018 champion in New York.
And if anything she’s been arguably even more impressive in her past couple of matches, dispatching both Anett Kontaveit and Shelby Rogers. Across the two matches, she lost just 21 points on her own serve. To compare, Brady lost 41 on her deal in wins over Kerber and Yulia Putintseva.
Osaka has been broken only four times in her five matches so far and if she keeps serving as she has been, then she will be well placed to reach another Grand Slam final.
Osaka won the pair’s only previous tour-level meeting – 6-4 6-4 on the Charleston clay in 2018 – and another factor against Brady is the hamstring problem she’s been suffering with in recent matches.
Her thigh has been heavily strapped and if that hinders her in any way in this match, Osaka is more than capable of taking advantage.
While far from ruling Brady out, I feel most evidence points to Osaka coming through this one.
We’ve yet to see what happens if Brady falls behind but history shows she’s not been great, winning just 15 of 84 (18%) at tour level when losing the first set.
Therefore Osaka to win in straight sets at 23/20 could be the way to go.
Serena Williams v Victoria Azarenka
The second semi-final under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium has the makings of a classic with Azarenka looking set to fully test the mettle of a player seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
This contest will roll back the years – Williams beat Azarenka in back to back US Open finals in 2012 and 2013.
Both now mothers, the pair were the two best players in the world at the time and brought the best out of each other.
Williams actually leads their head to head 18-4 but their matches have regularly been close, particularly in the second half of the rivalry.
If you include their first US Open final, it’s 9-3 with seven of the 12 matches going to three sets. All bar one of the others have been close.
Expect this to be no different.
Williams has rightly been praised for fighting her way through matches in the three previous rounds – Sloane Stephens, Maria Sakkari and Tsvetana Pironkova all had their chances to land a killer blow but ultimately lost in three sets.
But it’s not hard to remember Williams blasting her way through such draws in the past; basically she isn’t at the top of her game.
Overall since the tour’s resumption, she’s played 10 matches and eight have gone to a final set which is almost unheard of for the 38-year-old.
Azarenka is highly unlikely to be blown away. She won the Western and Southern Open leading into this tournament and has now won 10 matches in a row, beating some good players along the way. One of them, Elise Mertens, could win just a single game in their quarter-final.
She’s proved in the past she can deal with the Williams serve and outlast her in the rallies – expect her to make Williams play a lot of balls in a bid to break down her game, particularly the forehand which is often the shot which produces the errors. Stephens did this well for a set and a half but couldn’t sustain it.
I can see Azarenka edging this but I also thought she would be a bigger price – early odds-against quotes were quickly snapped up with several firms soon making her a slight favourite.
A three-set win at 18/5 holds potential value but instead I’ll go with the match going to three sets at a smaller 11/8.
This looks value-added given how close their matches have been in the past and I certainly wouldn’t put it past Williams being able to tough it out once again.
Preview posted 0730 BST on 10/09/2020