British teen Raducanu to face Sakkari in US Open semis

Djokovic moves two shy of Slam with Zverev next at US Open

By: AFP      Published: 10:56 AM, 9 Sep, 2021
British teen Raducanu to face Sakkari in US Open semis
British teen Raducanu in action.

British 18-year-old sensation Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to reach the US Open semi-finals by defeating Tokyo Olympic champion Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday.

Raducanu, only the fourth qualifier to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, made the Swiss 11th seed the highest-rated victim of her young career in making history on the New York hardcourts.

"It was a really tough match," Raducanu said. "I'm really glad to have come through."

World number 150 Raducanu, who hasn't dropped a set at the Open, had no clue she would become the new British number one or about the historic impact of her display on the New York hardcourts.

"I've actually got no idea about any of the records at all," Raducanu said. "It's the first time I heard I was the first qualifier to make the semis. I had no idea before that.

"I'm not here to chase any records right now. I'm just taking care of what I can do on the moment and on the match ahead."

Next for Raducanu is a first-ever matchup against Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari, who ousted Czech fourth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-4.

Sakkari, whose first Slam semi-final came in June at the French Open, also eliminated 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, the sixth seed from Canada, and Czech 10th seed Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, in matching her best Slam run.

Asked about the challenge of Raducanu, Sakkari said, "It's great for our sport. We have many young girls playing really well right now. I trust myself. I trust my game."

Raducanu, who would be the first qualifier to ever reach a Grand Slam final, made her Slam debut this year at Wimbledon and reached the fourth round.

She is trying to become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977 and the first British woman to win the US Open since Wade in 1968.

Raducanu became the youngest US Open women's semi-finalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005, although she is only a couple of months younger than Canadian 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, who will face second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in Thursday's other semi-final.

A first-time Grand Slam champion at this US Open has already been assured.

Only unranked Billie Jean King in 1979 and Kim Clijsters in her 2009 title run have reached a US Open semi-final with a lower ranking than Raducanu.

"I'm just really enjoying the experience," Raducanu said. "Out there on the court, I was saying to myself, 'This could be the last time you play on Ashe, so might as well just go for it and enjoy everything.'"

- 'Tough to the end' -

Bencic broke Raducanu to start the first set but an errant Bencic backhand allowed the British teen to break back for 3-3.

"It took me some adjusting at the beginning to get used to her ball speed, how aggressive she was," Raducanu said. "Once I adjusted, I settled in. I didn't overpress as much.

"I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level."

Raducanu smacked a forehand winner past Bencic to break again for a 5-3 edge, then held to take the first set in 36 minutes.

In the second set, Raducanu broke to lead 3-2 when Bencic netted a forehand and the Briton held three times to claim the match after 82 minutes.

"I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level," Raducanu said. "She was going to be tough to the end."

Raducanu fired 23 winners against only 12 unforced errors.

Pliskova, this year's Wimbledon runner-up, made an errant forehand in the third game on the only break point of the first set as Sakkari seized command.

Sakkari, who at one stage took 22 straight points on her own serve, broke to grab a 4-3 lead in the second set and held twice to claim the match after 82 minutes on a backhand down the line winner.

"I trusted my serve," Sakkari said. "But now I'm going to trust it even more."

Djokovic moves on 

Novak Djokovic moved within two matches of completing the first men's calendar-year singles Grand Slam in 52 years on Wednesday, rallying to defeat Italian Matteo Berrettini in a US Open quarter-final.

Top-ranked Djokovic stretched his Grand Slam win streak to 26 matches by eliminating sixth seed Berrettini 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in a rematch of July's Wimbledon final.

"I think it was a great performance overall," Djokovic said, calling his last three sets "the best three sets I've played in the tournament."

The world number one booked a semi-final date Friday against Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, who beat Djokovic in the semi-finals in Tokyo.

"He's in tremendous form. He has been winning a lot," Djokovic said. "He's one of the best players in the world right now and I'm pumped. The bigger the challenge, the more glory in overcoming it."

Djokovic is trying to become the first man to win all four major titles in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969, but he wasn't ready ponder the glory of that challenge just yet.

"Only focusing on the next match. Don't ask me about history," Djokovic said. "I'm thinking only about the next match. Step by step."

The 34-year-old Serbian also seeks his fourth US Open title and men's record 21st career Slam trophy, which would lift him one above the mark he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both absent with injuries.

German fourth seed Zverev, last year's US Open runner-up, reached his fourth career Slam semi-final by eliminating South Africa's 46th-ranked Lloyd Harris 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 6-4.

Zverev denied Djokovic's bid for a "Golden Slam" sweep of all four major titles plus Olympic gold, but Djokovic leads their all-time rivalry 6-3.

"He's the best player in the world. He's very difficult to beat," Zverev said. "I was the first player to beat him in a very big match this year. That does give you something."

Zverev is on a 16-match win streak that includes a title last month at Cincinnati. Djokovic didn't play between the Olympics and the Open.

Djokovic improved to 4-0 in his rivalry with Berrettini, who was chasing his third Slam semi-final after the 2019 US Open and his career-best Wimbledon runner-up effort.

Berrettini secured the first break with a forehand cross-court winner to seize a 6-5 lead, then squandered three set points before Djokovic sent a forehand wide to surrender a tension-packed first set after 77 minutes.

After dropping the opening set for a third consecutive match, Djokovic broke for a 3-1 lead in the second when Berrettini sent a backhand long, his power struggling to cope with the all-around finesse of Djokovic's game.

Berrettini netted a backhand to surrender a break and the second set and Djokovic broke again in game two of the third and again in the last to claim the set.

A passing forehand winner to break gave Djokovic a 2-0 lead in the fourth set and he held out from there to win in three hours and 27 minutes.

"It was a great match, a lot of energy on the court," Djokovic said.

"When I lost the first set, I managed to forget about it, move on, be in the moment. I was dialed in, locked in from the beginning of the second set and was able to raise my level."

- Zverev rolls on -

Zverev was down set point in his opening tie-breaker before Harris sent two forehands long and Zverev blasted a service winner to take the first set.

"He was serving incredible, in the first set especially," Zverev said. "Somehow was able to win that tie-breaker and that loosened me up.

"I'm really happy to get through in three."

Zverev broke Harris for a 2-0 lead in the second set and held serve from there. In the third, Zverev broke Harris in the first and third games and won after two hours and six minutes with his 21st ace of the match.

"The level wasn't quite where it needed to be," Harris said. "A little disappointing in that regard. Nonetheless, still a lot of positives to take from the week."

The best prior Slam run for Harris was to the third round of this year's Australian Open.