NEW YORK -- Is this the Summer of Serena, the Summer of Woz, or will see an unheralded journeywoman in Saturday's U.S. Open final? It's never a surprise to see a Russian and a Chinese woman into the semifinals of a Slam, but the familiar names of Maria Sharapova and Li Na have been replaced at this year's U.S. Open with two Slam semifinal debutantes. Unseeded Peng Shuai takes on No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki in the first semifinal, and No. 18 Ekaterina Makarova will go for her third straight upset when she faces No. 1 Serena Williams in the second semifinal match on Friday afternoon.
No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 18 Ekaterina Makarova: Neither woman has lost a set coming into the semifinals, but Serena had the far more easier road, facing just one seed in five matches. Makarova has notched two big wins over the last two rounds, first with a win over seventh seed Eugenie Bouchard and then two-time defending finalist Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.
Williams has won three of the pair's four meetings, but that 6-2, 6-3 loss in Melbourne in 2012 was a shocker. Makarova's lefty-game can cause Serena problems and the first set will be key. The two faced off earlier this season in Dubai, with Serena winning 7-6 (8), 6-0. Makarova's gameplan is simple, if not difficult, to execute: "Definitely to stay aggressive," she said. "Because she's so aggressive, yes? And I need to be a little bit more aggressive than she is; [make] her move definitely."
Casual fans may not be familiar with Makarova, but the top women on tour are well aware of how dangerous she can be as an opponent. The Russian, into her first Slam semifinal, said she was satisfied with just making the Slam quarterfinals in the past and and didn't have the hunger or ambition to go one step further. Things were different this year, and she played a focused match to take out Azarenka. "It's fun almost because no one expects anything from you and you have no pressure and you can just play so well," Williams said of Makarova's desire to fly under the radar. "But if she continues to win she won't be low profile. I think for more of a top player, she's beaten so many top 10 players, she's definitely not low profile for us. So once we step on that court we just know that she's a player that you cannot take lightly."
Prediction: Serena in 2.
No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki vs. Peng Shuai: Two feel-good stories go in, only one comes out. For Wozniacki, she's doing one heck of a job of forcing everyone to stop talking about that "R" guy and start talking about her. She's looking to make her first Slam final in exactly five years, having done so the first time here in 2009. She has been playing some of the best tennis of the summer, capped off so far by a huge three-set win over Maria Sharapova in the fourth round and an absolute rout of Sara Errani in the quarterfinals, winning 6-0, 6-1 and firing 26 winners. Possibly looming in the final is her friend Serena, who she pushed to three sets twice this summer before taking a narrow loss. Could this be the Summer of Woz?
On the other side of the net is 28-year-old Peng, into her first Slam semifinal in 37 Grand Slam appearances. Often overshadowed by her countrywomen Li Na or Zheng Jie, Peng now joins the semifinalist club after upset wins over No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 30 Roberta Vinci, No. 15 Lucie Safarova, and 17-year-old Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals. She's done it all without a loss of a set. Peng has served surprisingly well this tournament, hitting good pace around 108 mph, and she's executed her aggressive game-style perfectly. Hitting with two hands off both sides, she's looked a lot like Marion Bartoli over the last week. She's hugging the baseline, stepping into the court and slapping flat shots all around to get her opponents on the move.
Wozniacki leads the head-to-head 5-1, with Peng's only win coming way back in 2007. This is a very tough match-up for Peng, as Wozniacki's defense and anticipation puts pressure on her to go for too much, or she is forced to hit too many balls. The only counterpuncher she's played so far of Wozniacki's quality is Radwanska, but Wozniacki has been far more aggressive and offensive during this tournament.