The women’s side of the 2016 U.S. Open is not hurting for star power with only four players remaining.
Three of the top-10 ranked competitors are still alive, including No. 1 Serena Williams, and the only unranked player left is former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Williams will face No. 10 Karolina Pliskova, while Wozniacki will square off with No. 2 Angelique Kerber.
Here is a look at the schedule for Thursday’s semifinal clashes as well as a predicted winner for each one.
The schedule information is courtesy of the U.S. Open’s official website.
Date: Thursday, Sept. 8
Time: 7–11 p.m. ET
Location: Flushing Meadows, New York
Live Stream: WatchESPN
No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 10 Karolina Pliskova
There isn’t a lot of familiarity between Williams and Pliskova considering the world’s top-ranked player won their only head-to-head matchup in 2014, per Steve G Tennis.
Familiarity or not, there are few athletes in all of sports who dominate their opponents like Williams. She has 22 major titles on her resume, six of which came at the U.S. Open. She also reached the finals in all three of the previous majors this year and won at Wimbledon.
Williams hadn’t even lost more than three games in a set in this year’s U.S. Open until Wednesday's quarterfinals match with Simona Halep. The American also became the winningest player in Grand Slam history during this tournament when she earned her 308th major victory in her career, per Nick McCarvel of USA Today.
She appears primed to add a seventh U.S. Open, even though Pliskova figures to be a formidable foe.
Steve Tignor of Tennis.com noted this tournament is the first time in Pliskova’s career that she reached the round of 16 at a Grand Slam event. He highlighted why she has been so effective and why she could challenge Williams on Thursday.
"At its best, Pliskova’s game is icily awe-inspiring. A rangy 6’1”, she has a natural, no-wasted-motion service that has produced 466 aces this season, nearly 200 more than any other WTA player," Tignor wrote. "Pliskova’s ground strokes are just as efficient and, when they’re clicking, just as lethal."
Pliskova won 92 percent of her first-service points in her quarterfinals victory over Ana Konjuh, per the U.S. Open’s official website, so it is clear her serve is working in New York.
She is fresh off a title at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati (where she beat Kerber in the finals) and is riding plenty of momentum after advancing so far at the U.S. Open. She won’t go down easily, but there is no stopping Williams’ greatness at this point.
Williams will prevail, but she will also be tested by a quality opponent.
Prediction: Williams in three sets, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4
No. 2 Angelique Kerber vs. Caroline Wozniacki
The rankings would suggest Kerber will win this matchup easily, but Wozniacki is a former world No. 1 and has held her own in head-to-head matchups against the No. 2 seed.
According to Steve G Tennis, Kerber holds a narrow 7-5 advantage in those contests, so Wozniacki has experience beating her next opponent.
They have each looked dominant at times during this tournament. Kerber handled No. 7 Roberta Vinci and No. 14 Petra Kvitova in straight sets on the way to the semis, while Wozniacki beat No. 8 Madison Keys and No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets as well.
There is something more on the line than just a spot in the finals for Kerber. Tom Allnutt of The Independent noted Kerber will take the No. 1 spot from Williams “if she equals or betters the American.” The chance to do that could very well come in a head-to-head showdown in the finals.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times wrote: “Five years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Kerber within the No. 1 spot. She had not advanced past the third round at her first 15 Grand Slams events, and she arrived at the 2011 U.S. Open ranked 92nd. But then she began to real off win after win.”
Winning is what Kerber has been doing plenty of this year. She captured a silver medal in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and beat Williams in the Australian Open final for her first major title. She also reached the finals in Wimbledon but lost to Williams. A Grand Slam rubber match could be in order if they each continue to win at Flushing Meadows.
Kerber would be wise not to overlook Wozniacki when thinking about a potential match with Williams. The Danish star has dealt with injuries this year and fell to No. 74 in the rankings before the U.S. Open, per Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated, but she looked to be the player of old during those victories over Keys and Kuznetsova.
She also isn’t lacking for confidence if her comments were any indication, per BBC.com: “I always believe in myself, no matter what my ranking. I’ve beaten pretty much everyone in the draw before.”
That may be the case, but Kerber is playing at an elite level heading into Thursday’s semifinals. She will end Wozniacki’s underdog run and set up that battle for No. 1 with Williams in the finals.
Prediction: Kerber in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4