The semi finals of the ladies singles at the 2015 US Open are the feature of Thursday’s play at Flushing Meadows, with Serena Williams in action again today.
We didn’t get off to the best of starts on Wednesday when Petra Kvitova ran out of gas and was beaten by Flavia Pennetta from a dominant position.
On another scorching mid-day session in New York it all became too much for the Czech, who threw in 60 unforced errors and admitted that she had nothing left in the tank.
But Stanislas Wawrinka got us back on track with a surprisingly comfortable win over Kevin Anderson after the schedule was decimated by heavy rain, which looks likely to be a problem again today.
Wawrinka vs Anderson was moved to Armstrong, which I wasn’t happy about, having previewed the match based on Ashe conditions, but it didn’t affect the result in the end, which was fortunate.
Serena Williams vs Roberta Vinci
This fifth meeting between the world number one and first time major semi finalist Vinci looks a near certainty for Williams, assuming she doesn’t have some sort of meltdown.
Williams was up and down emotionally once more in her victory over big sister Venus on Tuesday night, which is perhaps to be expected, and she did go AWOL for a while in the face of some fine play from the elder Williams.
Perhaps Vinci’s only real chance is for Williams to mentally collapse under the pressure of being such a big favourite so close to the culmination of her Grand Slam dream.
It would certainly appear so when looking at the record of Williams when facing players of the rank of Vinci, who came into this event as the world number 47.
Williams has won 66 of her 69 matches against opposition ranked between 40 and 50 in the world and of the three she failed to win two were retirements from Williams.
So, the only player at that rank to beat the American in a completed match is Vera Zvonareva in the 2006 Cincinnati semi finals.
Vinci, of course, will make a huge leap in the rankings on Monday to around number 25, and against opponents ranked from 20 to 30 Williams has won 12 of 13 this season, with the one loss coming against Belinda Bencic in the Rogers Cup.
In major semi finals Williams is 25-3, with the defeats coming against Kim Clijsters here in 2009, Justine Henin in the 2003 French Open, and to Venus in the 2000 Wimbledon.
Against Vinci the four wins have come on hard, clay and grass, and the best the Italian has done is a couple of 6-4 set losses in a 0-8 set record, with their most recent clash coming only a few weeks ago in Toronto.
Williams was a 6-4, 6-3 winner that day, but it was hardly a heavy defeat, with the American breaking Vinci three times in the match from eight opportunities, while Vinci broke Williams once from six chances.
Granted, that wasn’t a semi final of a major, but the variety that Vinci brings to the court is arguably more likely to upset the rhythm of Williams than the raw power of Madison Keys and Venus Williams.
Using the slice works well on Ashe, as Sam Stosur showed when beating Williams here in the final in 2011 and although it most probably won’t be enough if Serena is on form it might be interesting if she’s having a bad day.
The 3.95 about Vinci +1.5 sets looks a good long shot here, with Williams unbackable at 1.05.
Williams has been beaten 10 times since 2007 as a 1.01 to 1.10 favourite, with two coming by way of retirement, and eight losses in completed matches.
The last time on a hard court was by Alizé Cornet in Dubai last year, but she has dropped sets four times this season as a sub-1.10 favourite and should have lost another to Kiki Bertens earlier this week.
I can’t see Vinci winning, but she might nick a set if Williams goes AWOL again, and the various handicap options on the crafty Italian look the ones here.
Flavia Pennetta vs Simona Halep
The last of my remaining speculative outright punts is on Pennetta and as I didn’t expect her to get past Kvitova my hopes aren’t that high tonight either in this 02:00 UK time clash with Halep.
Any rain that delays this match by a day will surely help the Romanian, who has endured a couple of really tough three setters and struggled physically as a result, but she looked to be moving fine against Vika Azarenka last night.
I said yesterday that Azarenka was too short in price if Halep had recovered from the ‘injury’ she had during the Sabine Lisicki match and that turned out to be the case and we can only assume that the world number two will be fine for this one.
It will be the fifth career meeting between the Italian and the Romanian and Pennetta has won three of the previous four, but that is rather misleading, as only one is from the last two seasons and Halep won it.
That was back in the spring on slower hard courts in Miami and it was a straight sets win for Simona, but that doesn’t tell the full story, as Pennetta did lead 5-2 in the second set of that one before fading.
Over 17.5 games looks a good ‘sure thing’ here, with Halep unlikely to win this one easily, and looking at her record since the clay swing against top-50 opponents we find that she’s played only one match that finished in fewer than 18 games.
That’s 13 matches and only Halep’s win over Jelena Jankovic in Cincy bucks the trend.
Also, the assumption that Halep will win this one easily doesn’t really sit well with me having watched her freeze on the big stage on several occasions and this is only her third major semi final, so there will be nerves on both sides of the net.
It’s Halep’s first US Open semi final, while Flavia played one two years ago here, so she if anything, will be more used to the occasion than Halep.
I’d expect a keenly fought contest here and it’s hard to see either one winning at a canter.
Sure thing: Back over 17.5 games in Halep/Pennetta at 1.30
Long shot: Back Vinci +1.5 sets to beat Williams at 3.95