Down a set and a break, Serena rallies past Pironkova in US Open QFs

Down a set and a break, Serena rallies past Pironkova in US Open QFs

The 23-time Grand Slam champion will face either Victoria Azarenka or Elise Mertens for a spot in the final.

NEW YORK—Serena Williams has played the US Open 11 times since losing in its quarterfinal stage in 2007, and she's reached the semifinals every time.

While this year’s trip to the final four feels like no other, the hallmarks of the American’s one-of-a-kind game were on display Wednesday afternoon to the dozens in attendance and the millions watching at home. She served with command, striking 20 aces, many on crucial points. She took her returns early and forcefully, earning nine break points and converting four.

Most predictably, she refused to lose in a venue that’s brought her historic levels of success.

Down a set and a break to Tsvetana Pironkova, a fellow mother who was playing her first tournament since 2017, Williams—who did not play poorly in the opening set, but was simply outclassed by her crafty opponent—remained focused and didn’t deviate from her time-honored game plan. While Pironkova did damage from all areas of the court with an array of shots, including a slice forehand and versatile backhand that contrasted vividly with Williams’ straight-ahead game, Serena landed the bigger blows. Both players’ games brought out the best in each other, making for a compelling contest that could be appreciated from courtside or from the couch.

Williams’ 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory wasn’t all about power tennis, though. There was her movement, something Martin Blackman, the General Manager of USTA Player Development, noted after her last match, against Maria Sakkari.

"One of the things that really stood out is how well Serena is moving," says Blackman, who watched the match courtside. "There were some really long, physical rallies where they both went coast to coast and were covering a ton of real estate. At the end of those rallies, Serena looked to be in better condition than Pironkova.

"When Serena can defend like that, and move like that to keep herself in the point—and make her opponent have to hit an unbelievable shot to win the point—then you know you're in trouble.

Then, consider this left-handed return struck by the six-time US Open champion late in the second set:

She would go on to win the point in a game that gave her an opportunity to force a decider.

"She probably doesn't get enough credit for how soft her hands are, and how well she adjusts," says Blackman. "It looked like she was leaning to her forehand side, and got caught. She hit the lefty return, which is unbelievable. Most people couldn't even get the racquet on the ball with their left hand."

Williams took advantage of the opening and grew in confidence as the cloudy day went along. Pironkova never wilted under Williams’ pressure, which spoke to the sky-high quality of the contest.

"The level of Pironkova's game didn't drop much; Serena just made some important adjustments in the second and the third set," says Blackman. "She put more pressure on Pironkova's second serve, and got more offensive but hit to bigger targets."

And, two hours and 12 minutes after the match began, it also spoke to Williams’ impressive, and perhaps title-worthy, form.


Stay tuned for additional updates from Flushing Meadows, included an extended look at this match and its competitors from Ed McGrogan, reporting on-site at the US Open.