Friday September 5th, 2014

NEW YORK -- Five quick thoughts from the women's semifinal day at the 2014 U.S. Open on Friday afternoon:

Serena Williams is a match from salvaging a dismal year, eloquently and forcefully answering so many questions that preceded this event. Getting better with each round, she positively ran roughshod over Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Friday, 6-1, 6-3. This was vintage Serena at her best, a festival of power masquerading as a tennis match. Watching her at this level, it strains belief that she hasn’t advanced past the fourth round of the first three majors of 2014.

Caroline Wozniacki is back on the singles market. The former No. 1 -- and U.S. Open finalist five years ago -- is playing perhaps the best tennis of her career. Wozniacki played a similar opponent in Peng Shuai but offered more variety, played better in the first-set tiebreaker and, most important, had superior fitness in demanding conditions despite suffering from a cold. Already one of the more likable and popular players, she did herself proud in cutting an empathetic figure when Peng suffered cramps and retired with Wozniacki leading 7-6 (1), 4-3.​

Pause a moment and applaud Peng Shuai. After reaching the semifinals and playing solidly for nearly two hours in brutal heat, she was overcome with pain. Down 6-7, 3-4, 40-30, Peng was incapacitated by cramps. In a positively bizarre scene which seemed to contravene tennis rules and will trigger much examination, Peng was allowed to leave the court for treatment. Without being assigned a penalty (and without much objection from a very compassionate and sporting opponent), she returned ten minutes later, only to seize up again and retire. It was an excruciating end to a terrific tournament for Peng, who provided a pleasant storyline as an unseeded player.

Peng is taken from the court in a wheelchair after an injury during her semifinal match on Friday afternoon.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Makarova was victimized on Friday afternoon -- “If this were the schoolyard, we’d call it bullying,” said one observer -- but what a tournament for the lefty. She won $730,000 for her singles. She is in the doubles final. And it’s not a coincidence. For five rounds, she brought a solid and well-rounded game. Then she played an in-form Serena and was almost incidental to the plot.

Tennis
The uniqueness of Serena Williams

After six rounds of madness in which eight of the top ten women failed to survive the middle weekend, we arrive at sanity and reason. In fact, we have a darn strong final match-up set for Sunday. These two women have played the best since Wimbledon. A current No. 1 and a former No. 1. Two of the more popular players. Rich storylines on both sides. That they’re friends adds even more texture. We have offense versus defense, a compelling contrast in styles. Serena is 8-1 against Wozniacki for her career. If she comes anywhere close to sustaining the level she betrayed on Friday, that record is likely to improve. As will her haul of major titles.

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