From 128 women down to four, it’s been a particularly wild ride for the women at this grand slam, in a year already full of them. Few, if any would have predicted this quartet – Serena, sure, maybe Keys or Osaka, but not both, and certainly not Anastasija-flipping-Sevastova. Yet as unpredictable as the journey has been, there feels something fateful about their shared destinations.
In Serena versus Sevastova, and Osaka versus Keys, both matches show a remarkable symmetry between opponents. No, not in terms of personality or play-style, but in terms of where they have come from, and where they still need to go.
For both Serena and Sevastova, this is a chance to move that much closer to the completion of their comeback – the former from her pregnancy and complications surrounding it, the latter off a premature retirement in 2013 from back and muscle injuries. For Osaka and Keys, it is a chance to continue their ascension, from being “the next big thing” to reigning queens of the sport. It’s equal parts poetic and cruel that these opponents want the same thing, and now have to go through the other for a chance to get it – but hey, that’s tennis.
Read on for a preview of both women’s semifinals on Thursday in NYC.
Both matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium (7:00pm start)
Serena Williams (USA)  v Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) 
Having already crushed the hopes of one American favourite this week, Anastasija Sevastova gets the chance to double up when she faces off with Serena Williams. Despite this being their first career meeting, there’s still no doubting Serena comes in a very strong favourite, and while Sevastova proved more than a match for Sloane Stephens, this American will provide a very different puzzle to solve. Where Stephens gave Sevastova the space to work and actually take command of points (or even end them with some absolutely filthy drop shots), Serena will look to play almost exclusively first-strike tennis, which with her decisive power advantage means the Latvian will be asked to play from much deeper in the court. As a result, it will be much harder for Sevastova to play the positive, attacking tennis she’s done so far this tournament, and while her groundstrokes are certainly solid, whether they’re solid enough to outlast Serena’s aggression remains doubtful. Realistically, this is Serena’s to lose – it would take something equally shocking from her as herculean from Sevastova to actually happen though.
Madison Keys (USA)  v Naomi Osaka (JPN) 
Featuring two of the most exciting young players on tour, this matchup between Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka is also a particularly tough nut to crack. At first glance, Keys would seem to have earned “favourite” status – after all, she’s ranked higher, has been here before, is playing in front of a home crowd and leads the the head-to-head 3-0 – and yet, it’s hard to shake the feeling Osaka is the one in better stead, given the tennis she’s played en route to the semifinals. Certainly Keys will have the technical advantage, with a serve that is one of the best on tour, and groundstrokes that even compared to Osaka’s can sometimes be overwhelming, and yet (at least this tournament) the Japanese has looked far more focused and composed under pressure, and that counts for an awful lot. If Osaka comes out playing positive tennis, maintaining consistent weight and depth in rallies while crunching the occasional winner, Keys is the sort of player who will let the intensifying pressure get to her, and that could turn the tide decisively. That said, if Keys is on her game, she’s going to be able to tee-off on the Japanese’s serve, and could realistically win it in a laugher. In either case, you’re likely to get an exhibition in attacking baseline play from one end – if not both – and that should make this a very entertaining affair indeed.