From left, Serena Williams and Madison Keys


Liguori: Williams, Keys On Collision Course To All-American US Open Final

Serena Meets Sevastova, Madison Takes On Osaka In Thursday's Semifinals

Ann Liguori
September 06, 2018 - 10:17 am

It must be a great relief to USTA officials that two American women will be playing in Thursday night's semifinals and it’s very likely we’ll be treated to an all-American women’s final for the second straight year.

Six-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams will take on Anastasija Sevastova, the 19th seed from Latvia. Naomi Osaka, the 20th seed from Japan, will then meet the 14th seed, Madison Keys.

MORE: US Open Tournament Director: Courts Were Slowed 'A Touch'

Williams, who has worked her way back into championship form after having a baby on Sept. 1, 2017, looked very sharp in her quarterfinal matchup against Karolina Pliskova, beating her in straight sets. Most importantly, she kept her nerves in check. Williams has struggled, at times, with her focus and with maintaining her nerves. After all, all the pressure is always on her as the winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

Williams will be attempting to reach her ninth U.S. Open final. But it’s been four years since she’s last been in that space. Her last U.S. Open championship came in 2014. In 2016, she lost to Pliskova in the semifinals, and in 2015, Williams was defeated by Roberta Vinci in the semis.

Williams and Sevastova have never faced each other.

“I’ve seen her play a lot,” Williams said. “She’s been playing really well for actually a long time. So obviously, I know her game really well. She clearly knows mine. So she’s definitely someone that gets a lot of balls back and something I have to be ready for.”

MORE: Liguori: Rafael Nadal Is The Fiercest Competitor In The Game

Keys and Osaka have played each other three times, with Keys winning each time. Both players live and train in Florida. In fact, Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan but moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. She holds dual citizenship. Osaka is coached by Aleksandar Bajin, who was the former hitting partner of Caroline Wozniacki and Williams. Since Bajin has become her coach, Osaka has climbed from No. 68 in the world to start this season at No. 19. And now the 20-year-old finds herself in her first Grand slam semifinal.

I think both Sevastova and Osaka will be formidable opponents, but I expect the two Americans, Williams and Keys, to advance. I don’t expect either matches to be walkovers. Sevastova looked solid ousting defending champion Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-3. She can rally with Williams, but Serena should overpower her and if her first serve is working, Williams should beat her in straight sets. Keys, last year's U.S. Open runner-up, should be able to overpower Osaka, but Osaka will scramble and make Keys work for every point.

On Saturday evening, I expect Williams to win her 24th major title, tying Margaret Court’s career record of most Grand Slam championships by a female. But after losing in the finals at Wimbledon this year to Angelique Kerber of Germany, Serena was hesitant to think ahead to a special ending.

“I’d been a couple steps away at the last Grand Slam, so I’m definitely not ahead of myself," she said. "I still know that no matter, whether I’m in the semifinals or the finals, I have a really long way to go to win that. Again, that proved to be true at Wimbledon. I’m just taking it one at a time, literally.”

Serena continues to be a great story, this time an inspiration for mothers everywhere.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.