Serena Williams‘ latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title was derailed by fellow mom Victoria Azarenka.
Azarenka prevailed 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, overcoming her rival from an era ago after Williams took a medical timeout early in the third set with a left Achilles injury. Williams played her most dominant tennis of the summer in the first set before Azarenka flipped the script in the second and kept pushing through the finish.
“I started really strong. Then she just kept fighting,” Williams said. “She just changed and started playing better and better. Maybe I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point.”
Williams suffered the injury while serving and down 1-0 in the third set. She limped, went to her chair and had her always heavily wrapped foot and ankle worked on and rewrapped.
“It just overstretched. It was pretty intense,” she said. “It didn’t affect my play ultimately at all, just for that one point.”
Azarenka, who had already fought back from love-40 to 40-all in the game, won three of the next four points to break Williams.
From there, the Belarusian held serve four straight times to reach her first Grand Slam final in seven years and since having son Leo in December 2016. She improved to 1-10 against Williams in majors and reversed the 2012 U.S. Open final, when she served for the match in the third set and lost.
“My ego was way too big,” eight years ago, Azarenka said. “Now it’s a little smaller, and the results [are] coming.”
Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, plays 2018 U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka in Saturday’s final. Earlier Thursday night, Osaka took out surging American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 in a battle between the two most impressive players of the tournament.
Azarenka, who was due to play Osaka in an event final two weeks ago before Osaka withdrew with a left hamstring injury, looks to become the fourth mom to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era.
Williams hoped to join that club since returning from September 2017 childbirth and match Margaret Court‘s record for major singles titles. She lost finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019. She turns 39 in two weeks.
Every Slam is crucial. Every deep run and close miss leads followers to wonder how it affects Williams’ resolve.
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that actually,” she said.
Her next chance will be the French Open that starts in two weeks. Williams, in not outright committing to the event on Monday, said that she had questions about health safety at the tournament that plans to allow up to 11,500 spectators per day.
Just after midnight on Friday, she provided an update.
“I’m definitely going to be going to Paris,” Williams said.
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