Serena Williams seemed poised to make it back to the finals at the US Open on Thursday night, which would have marked her third trip to the championship match at the Grand Slam event in three years.
That bid, however, quickly fell apart.
Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka beat Williams late on Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Azarenka will return to her third US Open final — her first major final appearance in seven years — and will take on Naomi Osaka on Saturday. Osaka beat Jennifer Brady in her semifinals match on Thursday to earn her second spot in the final in three years.
“It’s been seven years? That’s my favorite number. I guess that’s meant to be. I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” Azarenka said on ESPN after the match. “On the road to the final, you have to beat the best players, and today was that day.”
Williams falls apart after early win
Williams got off to a quick start on Thursday, and took the opening set 6-1. She seemed as if she was in full control.
That, however, is when her game fell apart.
Williams, after a string of unforced errors, dropped the second game and fell into a quick 1-0 hole in the third.
Williams then tweaked her ankle early in the final set and needed a medical timeout after she limped back to the benches. Replays didn’t show that she had done much to her ankle, though she ended up getting it looked at and retaped before returning to the court.
By that point, it was too late.
Azarenka came out of the timeout recharged and powered through to the win, her first over Williams in a major in 11 attempts.
“I think it’s the daily work I’ve been doing to find the calm inside, with mind and body,” Azarenka said. “I had to keep moving and bring the energy. There’s no crowd to get the energy from, so I had to get the energy myself. I dug myself a big hole ... I had to climb my way out of there one by one and it wasn’t easy for sure.”
Azarenka has two Grand Slam titles under her belt, having won back-to-back Australian Opens in 2012 and 2013. She reached the final at the US Open in each of those seasons, too, but fell to Williams.
“I’m going to have to stay strong and have fun,” Azarenka said of Saturday’s match. “Playing in the final is a blessing, and I’m going to take all the fun out of it.”
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