In a U.S. Open that’s seen so many of its highest seeds felled early, No. 1 Iga Swiatek Wednesday was able to continue her quest for dominance – taking down a New Yorker in New York to do it.
In her biggest challenge this tournament, Swiatek stamped her ticket to the semifinal, defeating Buffalo’s Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 7-6 (4) and setting up a date with No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka at 8:15 p.m. Thursday. Pegula and Swiatek have now faced each other four times, with Swiatek winning the last three.
“She's really consistent,” Swiatek said of Pegula before the match. “She's a great player. I know it's going to be tough...I think she has a game style that suits these courts. So, yeah, I have to be ready.”
Pegula cracked the women’s singles top 10 for the first time in her career this year.
After a slow start, Swiatek took the final four games of the first set and continued her dominance in the second, winning Game 1 and breaking Pegula’s serve on a tidy 40-15 forehand winner. The American from Buffalo settled then, though, playing Swiatek to a 5-5 draw before a frenzied 11th game, which was capped by Pegula’s double fault to give Swiatek a chance to close it out. Pegula, though, broke her serve in the next game – Swiatek scoring the first point and then no more to send it to the tiebreak.
Pegula, though, struggled with her serve in the extra frame – Swiatek breaking it four times before finishing Pegula off after Pegula hit Swiatek’s soft serve wide.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Swiatek said of the win. “I’m trying to keep my expectations low.”
No wonder, considering how many she's seen fall during this tournament. But not her, and now, whether she likes it or not, the expectations are plenty high.
Swiatek's opponent: Sabelenka
Sabalenka became the only remaining player in either draw to reach consecutive final fours at the U.S. Open. But it’s everything that happened in between these two Septembers that made her accomplishment all the more notable.
The sixth-seeded Belarussian, who handily defeated No. 22 Karolina Pliskova, 6-1, 7-6 (4), at Arthur Ashe Stadium, did so after being banned from Wimbledon due to the Russian invasion on Ukraine, and struggled even earlier than that — missing Indian Wells after contracting COVID-19, and beginning her 2022 season with an early ouster at the Adelaide International and an uneven performance at the Australian Open, despite advancing to the fourth round. All that dimmed the glow of a 2021 where she reached back-to-back Grand Slam semifinals.
“I worked really hard and I worked a lot on my serve,” Sabalenka said. “It was a tough time, especially when I was working out in the gym and there was Wimbledon playing on the TV. I would always turn it off because I couldn't watch it. . . . I worked so hard.”
The hard work certainly paid off, as Sabalenka rattled off six aces in the second set and seven total, something she credited to the use of biometrics and a new member of her coaching staff. She didn’t give up a single break while winning 43% of break points — something that paced her to a quick 4-0 lead in a first set that took her just 28 minutes to win.
But down 5-6 in the second set, Pliskova kept fighting — earning the final two points on a crosscourt slice and benefiting from Sabalenka’s unforced error to send it to tiebreak. The duo were knotted at two in the second-set tiebreak before Sabalenka notched the next three, eventually winning on a return.
“I'm in the semifinal, and I have zero expectations for myself,” Sabalenka said. “It's going to be tough, and I know I have to really work hard for this win. Now I will just go there and fight for every point.”
This year, everything is a fight, anyway. This will be no different.