New York | Swiatek pushes past Pegula into US Open semi-finals

In only her second match played in Arthur Ashe Stadium, World No 1 Iga Swiatek booked her first semi-final spot at the US Open with a scrappy win over home favourite Jessica Pegula, 6-3 7-6(4), in Wednesday’s night session in New York.

I knew, even though I’m breaking her, that it’s not like in men’s matches, where they are going to finish with their serve. I know that. She's a great player. I was trying to push her back, but she's really good at receiving so she put pressure on me. That's why it ended up in a tiebreaker. Iga Świątek

“I wasn’t expecting this at the beginning of the tournament,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “I’m really working hard, and trying to keep my expectations low.

“Today was such a tough match and I think the level was great, so I’m pretty happy that I handled it.”

Pegula was also competing in her first US Open quarter-final, which doubled as her third major Last 8 of the season, but she will finish the year still seeking her first Grand Slam semi-final after falling to 0-3 against reigning World No 1s.

Swiatek kept the hard-swinging American No 1 at a distance in a relatively tight first set, but the second saw 10 breaks in 12 games, leading to a dramatic tiebreak.

After an hour and 53 minutes, an emotional Swiatek emerged the winner and said in her post-match, on-court interview: “I’m super proud of myself, you know?

“My goal, basically, is to be consistent against the top players in the world.

“I remember, when I was an underdog and any match like that was pretty surreal. Now, it feels a little bit like a routine, but I’m happy that I have motivation and an opportunity to push even harder, because I think any of us can win any tournament.”

Jessica Pegula led in the first set and had her chances in the second but the World No 1 Iga Swiatek prevailed in 2 tight sets

© Corey Sipkin/AFP via Getty Images

The 21-year-old from Poland took out Pegula, the 8th seed and the last American standing in the women’s draw, having twice been denied from serving out the match, but doing just enough in the breaker by firing 3 winners to escape in straights.

The back-and-forth second set saw a combined 17 break points.

The American started the stronger of the two in front of her home fans as she moved Swiatek around the baseline, earning a break point in the opening game and then converting to break for 3-2 behind a rare net approach.

She ceded her advantage, though, with 4 unforced errors to drop serve from 3-0, sparking a Swiatek sprint.

Keeping the pressure on with big swings from the backcourt, the Pole won 16 of the last 18 points to pocket the opening set, wrapping it up with a backhand winner.

Swiatek extended that streak to 21 of 24 points, garnering 5 games on the trot, as she broke serve to open the second, but found herself level at 1-1 after 3 straight miscues in the face of Pegula’s baseline blasts.

That was the first of four trades of breaks, with Swiatek edging ahead each time, only for Pegula to fashion an instant response.

“It was really fun when I kept breaking back, and I wanted to give them a third set, but it wasn’t to be,” Pegula said later.

The American fought hard to prevent another finishing flurry from Polish top seed, and held her own in the many marathon rallies that defined the second act.

She won the joint-longest rally of the match, 23 balls, with a drop-shot in a tense 4-all, 30-all point, but then fell victim to an unlucky net cord at the end of a 20-shot exchange, Swiatek’s good fortune setting her up to serve for the match.

Three more breaks, however, followed ahead of the tiebreak, where 7 of 11 points went against serve, but this time, Swiatek did close it out on serve, winning rallies of 11 and 9 shots to get to the finish line from 5-4.

Iga Swiatek was pushed hard by Jessica Pegula but found a way past the top-ranked American on Wednesday night

© Corey Sipkin/AFP via Getty Images

“At the beginning of the tournament, of course, you’re here to make the best result as possible, but I wasn’t expecting [to reach the semi-finals],” Swiatek said.

The 21-year-old twice failed to serve out the match in the second set, and was broken 6 times by the 8th-seed, who saw her own serve broken 7 times.

“I knew, even though I’m breaking her, that it’s not like in men’s matches, where they are going to finish with their serve,” said Swiatek. “I know that. She’s a great player.

“I was trying to push her back, but she’s really good at receiving so she put pressure on me. That’s why it ended up in a tiebreaker.”

After winning 6 titles and running up a 37-match win streak from February to June, Swiatek is seeking her 4th hard-court title of the season.

Swiatek improves her record to 3-1 against Pegula, while the two-time Roland Garros champion is the only remaining major title holder in the men’s or women’s singles draws.

Prior to Swiatek, the last US Open No 1 seed to reach the semi-finals was Serena Williams in 2016, who was also the last top seed to win the New York title, in 2014.

Should Swiatek go all the way, she would become the first woman to win 7 or more titles in a season since Williams, in 2014.

Iga Swiatek (R) and Jessica Pegula had a combined 17 breaks of serve between them in the quarter-final contest

© Corey Sipkin/AFP via Getty Images

Pegula could make her debut in the WTA’s Top 5 following her performance at the US Open, although Sabalenka and Caroline Garcia could prevent that with more success in New York.

The 28-year old arrived for her post-match press conference with a beer in hand and when a member of the media pointed it out, Pegula responded with something many professional athletes can relate to: “I’m trying to pee for doping.

“Although it does help ease the loss. I’m a little deflated right now. I’m not real happy.

“I just made a few stupid errors,” said Pegula about the first set. “She started playing a little bit better.

“I was just going for too much. The games, kind of, flew by, went really quickly. Next thing I knew, I lost the set 6-3.

“It’s hard with her because she moves so well, so you know you have to move in and try and dictate the point as well.

“Then you don’t want to make those easy unforced errors that she kind of forces you to make with her movement.

“I don’t know. It’s a balance. I don’t know. When I figure it out, hopefully I’ll win next time.”

Swiatek will face Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals after the 6th seed’s 6-1 7-6(4) dismissal of 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova earlier on Wednesday.

Swiatek holds a 3-1 record against the powerful Belarusian.

“It’s going to be tough even though I won the last couple of matches against her,” she said. “I know she’s in great shape, so I have to be ready for fast serves for sure and for some heavy hitting, but I feel like I experienced that today as well with Jessie, flat ball, I’m going to be ready.”



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