Thursday at the 2016 US Open sees the semi finals of the women’s singles take place on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court in two night sessions.
First up at midnight UK time will be Serena Williams taking on Karolina Pliskova followed by the returning to form Caroline Wozniacki, who faces Angelique Kerber, with the German standing at world number one in the current live rankings.
I said in yesterday’s preview that I always find it best to go bravely one way or the other in close matches and unfortunately I went what turned out to be the wrong way in the Juan Martin Del Potro vs Stan Wawrinka clash on Wednesday.
It did turn out to be a case of survival of the fittest and in the end that was Wawrinka, with Delpo having on court treatment once again and appearing very tired after losing an opening set he should have won.
But it’s the ladies' stage tonight on Ashe and there’s plenty at stake when play begins at midnight UK time.
Serena Williams vs Karolina Pliskova
Williams needs to do better than Kerber this tournament to hang on to her world number one position, but presumably more important to the American would be to overtake Steffi Graf’s record of major wins.
Both goals are within two matches for Williams and the immediate hurdle to overcome is Pliskova, who has blasted her way into the last four in by far her best ever performance at a major.
Pliskova, despite having half a dozen main level titles to her name, had never been beyond the last-32 at a Grand Slam before this week and having won Cincy ahead of this tournament she’s on a winning run of 11 matches.
The big-hitting Czech has already saved match points against one Williams sister this fortnight and having been a set and 1-3 down versus Venus Williams in the last-16.
She’s only faced the younger Williams sister once in her career, which was in Stanford on outdoor hard two years ago when Pliskova was ranked 45 in the world and Williams was a 7-5, 6-2 winner that day.
The current world number 11 will rise to a career high of at least number six next week and her stats on outdoor hard this season are 77.3 percent holds and 36.2 percent breaks.
That compares fairly well with the 80.5 percent holds and 41.2 percent breaks of Williams, but how will her nerves stand up to this first big occasion at a major?
Pliskova’s confidence should be at its peak and she does have the sort of game that can be rough for anyone to deal with, but I’m not too sure about her nerves here.
Williams was tested by Simona Halep on Wednesday night, but the Romanian has the craft that Pliskova lacks, and I’m struggling to find a loss by Williams on a hard court to a player I’d consider one of the ‘ball basher’ genre.
In major semi finals only the crafty and versatile Roberta Vinci has beaten Williams and not been a major winner, with the only other three players to have beaten Serena at this stage of Slams being Venus, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
Caroline Wozniacki vs Angelique Kerber
A return to the scene of her two previous appearances in Grand Slam finals appears to have inspired the Dane, who is into the last four in New York for the fifth time in her career.
I recall backing her each way at 50-1 in 2014 when she last made the final, but I didn’t consider her this year on the outright after a dismal season in which she’s dropped out of the top-70 and hadn’t made a semi final since Auckland at the start of the season.
Wozniacki was a 200-1 chance outright for this season’s US Open and after struggling in round one against Taylor Townsend she now finds herself set for a 13th career clash with Kerber in a major semi final.
Kerber has won seven of their 12 priors and four of the last six and she comes into this match with a 52-14 record for the season and seeking a seventh final in 2016.
In terms of their stats for this season there isn’t that much in it, with an almost identical service hold mark of just over 71 percent for each player and 43 percent breaks for Wozniacki and 47.5 percent for Kerber.
In this tournament the numbers are also very similar, with 79.7 percent holds for the Dane and 78.4 for the German and 58 percent breaks for Wozniacki, while Kerber breaks 59.5 percent of the time this event.
Wozniacki has also won six of her last nine against top-10 ranked opponents and this one seems the likelier of the two semi finals to be competitive, with all the pressure on Kerber.
This pair rarely play tie breaks, with tie breaks per set marks of 0.07 and 0.05 respectively on outdoor hard this season and in their career series they’ve played three in 29 sets, so 1.30 about no tie breaks could be another ‘sure thing’.
But I prefer the 4.0 about Kerber winning this one in a decider and setting up a final clash with Williams.
There’s little between these two on the numbers and Caro should be fresh after only 32 matches this season compared with Kerber’s 66 and she’s already back in the top-30 after her run this week, so she can afford to play a bit looser than in the past in major semis and finals.
I’m expecting a decent match here and a three setter seems likely, with Kerber having the edge given the amount of wins she’s had in 2016.
Sure thing: Back Williams to beat Pliskova 2-0 at 1.57
Long shot: Back Kerber to beat Wozniacki 2-1 at 4.0