Four women remain in the hunt for a U.S. Open title, but only two will live to fight another day after Friday's semifinals.
Serena Williams looks to maintain her stronghold over the women's tennis division by capturing her fifth career title in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Before adding yet another trophy to her mantle, she must fend off fifth-seeded veteran Li Na, who will fight to earn her first U.S. Open finals bid.
Should Williams eliminate Na, a potential rematch between the top two stalwarts could arise if No. 2 ranked Victoria Azarenka holds up her end of the bargain. The 24-year-old, who fell to Williams in last year's title bout, must first overcome Flavia Pennetta, a Cinderella story that has only grown sweeter after her second-round upset over No. 4 seed Sara Errani.
Buckle up for an exciting Friday afternoon of tennis.
Women's Singles Semifinal Schedule - Friday, Sept. 6
Serena Williams vs. Li Na
Not before 1:45 p.m.
Flavia Pennetta vs. Victoria Azarenka
Not before 3:45 p.m.
No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 5 Li Na
Williams has taken no prisoners this tournament, quickly dusting off the opponent with the ill fortune to draw the top-seeded stud.
First, she sent first-round foe Francesca Schiavone searching for a shoulder to cry on in a clearly confused ball boy. The pain subsided quickly, however, as Williams downed her 6-0, 6-1 in two speedy sets.
Her latest victim, Carla Suarez Navarro, was ousted in two 6-0 sets in a match that spanned under an hour. The beat-down came on Suarez Navarro's birthday.
Na is not one to back down from Williams. Despite losing eight of their nine head-to-head bouts, her power game has frequently challenged Williams, who suggested that her fellow 31-year-old colleague might actually display the gall to try to claim a victory (via SI.com's Elizabeth Newman).
"She's been playing me really close," Williams said. "Who knows? Maybe the next time we play she might want to go from close to a win. I have to be ready for that."
Na better throw everything she has at Williams to take down the favorite. Currently on top of her game, Williams won 84 percent of her first serve points alongside 22 winners against No. 15 Sloane Stephens before claiming 88 percent of her first serve points in her quarterfinal clash with Suarez Navarro.
Na should provide a closer contest, but close doesn't win titles. Look for Williams to cruise to another championship match.
Prediction: Williams wins in straight sets
Flavia Pennetta vs. No. 2 Victoria Azarenka
Who doesn't love a good underdog story?
Pennetta was an easy pick to fall way back in the second round to her friend Errani, but Penneta instead pulled off the tournament's first major surprise. She did it rather convincingly, too, notching 33 winners and six of seven break points in an upset over the top-seeded Italian.
Not one to take it easy on her allies, Pennetta pounded another highly-ranked fellow Italian in 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci. Pennetta took 65 minutes to eliminate her friend and former tennis academy roommate.
The unseeded 31-year-old is approaching rare territory with her final four appearance. Since 2001, Pennetta marks only the 13th unseeded player to make a major semifinal. Just three of the past 11 advanced to the finals, with two of them winning it all.
Azarenka's quest for redemption, however, stands in Pennetta's path to solidifying a fairy-tale finish. The 24-year-old suffered an unceremonious second-round exit in Wimbledon and is likely clamoring for another shot at knocking out Williams on the grand stage.
While Pennetta defeated Azarenka in their only prior match on hard court, Azarenka currently boasts a 30-1 record on them this year. Her world-class return game serves her well, and her younger legs should give her a step on the veteran this late in the game.
Prediction: Azarenka survives in three sets
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