Madison Keys completed the clean sweep for American women, giving the host country all four US Open semi-final spots for the first time in 36 years.
The 15th-seeded Keys served impeccably, controlled groundstroke exchanges from the baseline and was never in any real trouble during her 6-3 6-3 victory over the currently 418th-ranked qualifier, Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, that lasted only 69 minutes on Wednesday night
That came several hours after 20th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe’s 7-6(4) 6-3 elimination of 2016 runner-up and top-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.
Oh, my God, it feels so good. We have so many Americans to talk about in the last days of the U.S. Open. I can't tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear, you know, how horrible tennis is in America. Madison Keys
Pliskova’s loss means she will be replaced at No 1 in the rankings by the Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.
On Thursday, Keys faces her friend and countrywoman Vandeweghe, with the winner reaching her first Grand Slam final, while the 9th seed Venus Williams will meet 83rd-ranked Sloane Stephens.
Keys holds a 2-0 record against Vandeweghe, with their most recent meeting coming in Cincinnati and before that the final of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
“Oh, my God, it feels so good. We have so many Americans to talk about in the last days of the U.S. Open,” Keys said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear, you know, how horrible tennis is in America.”
Williams, whose seven major championships include the 2000 and 2001 US Opens, and Stephens won quarter-finals on Tuesday.
“American tennis is headed in the right direction,” said Stephens, seeking her debut in a major final.
Not since 1981 have there been four American women in the final four at the US Open, when the quartet was champion Tracy Austin, runner-up Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Barbara Potter.
While Williams is 37, the oldest semi-finalist in tournament history, the other members of the Fab Four are all in their 20s.
Kanepi, a powerful 32-year-old, was ranked as high as No 15 in the world in 2012 and has been to a Grand Slam semi-final six different times in her professional career, but the Estonian has recently been slowed by a slew of injuries and health issues, battling plantar fasciitis and contemplating retirement.
“I ignored the pain, kept playing on tour, thinking it would go away…But it got worse and I couldn’t play at all,” Kanepi said on suffering with the Epstein-Barr virus, a bad back and then afterwards plantar fasciitis in both feet, as well as achilles problems.
She was off the tour for nearly two years suffering with the cumbersome illness and devastating injuries to her feet, but with the hope and determination to come back to the sport and livelihood she loves.
Back at the US Open this year she experienced a resurgence, wrestling through four straight rounds to reach the quarters, amazed at herself for being victorious after the hard few year’s absence from the sport, with her opponents years younger and healthier than her.
The Estonian plays a similar game to Keys, but the American possesses much bigger weapons with her serve and forehand.
Perhaps the biggest question coming into their quarter-final was how the 22-year-old Keys would handle the pressure trying to become the fourth American semi-finalist.
“I was really nervous all day,” Keys admitted, who had a rough start to 2017, missing the first two months after offseason surgery on her left wrist, and then had another procedure in June because of lingering pain.
Coached by three-time Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport, Keys was not supposed to beat the 4th-seeded Elina Svitolina in the fourth round, but she pulled out a three-set victory and was now expected to beat Kanepi.
In fact, she was terrific against Kanepi, who sat with a white towel over her head during changeovers trying to figure out how to stem the tide.
Showing no sign of nerves, Keys set the tone in the opening game: an ace at 108 mph, another ace at 105 mph, a service winner at 117 mph, and another service winner at 112 mph.
It was a sharp start for the American, breaking her Estonian opponent for a 3-1 lead.
She faced three break points in the third game of the first set, but fought back to win it with a forehand winner and, from 4-1, she never looked like dropping the opening set, winding up with 8 aces, part of a 23-8 in total winners.
An early break at the start of the second set put Keys in control as she edged closer to completing a full cohort of Americans in the semi-finals.
“I think once I came back from that [break], I kind of relaxed a bit,” said Keys, whose season debut had been delayed until March while she recovered from her two wrist surgeries.
“Definitely started really nervous. Kind of feeling like I was getting on a roll definitely helped relax me and helped me loosen up to play some of my best tennis.”
She wasn’t always sure that would be possible here, or anywhere else.
“Having all of the things that were kind of thrown at me this whole year and having some really low moments, and there was a moment where I came off the court and I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to win a tennis match again.’ There was definitely a lot of dark moments,” she admitted.
“To have this really feels good and makes me really proud of myself.
“This means the world to me,” continued Keys, also a semi-finalist at the 2015 Australian Open.
“If someone told me this is where I would be, right before Wimbledon, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Only five times in the Open Era, since 1968, has a Grand Slam tournament featured four American women’s semi-finalists:
1985 Wimbledon – Chris Evert, Zina Garrison, Martina Navratilova, Kathy Rinaldi
1983 Australian Open – Zina Garrison, Kathy Jordan, Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver
1982 Australian Open – Chris Evert, Andrea Jaeger, Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver
1981 US Open – Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Barbara Potter
1979 US Open – Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova
Now more history is being made at the US Open, with the Fab Four in action on Thursday night, staring with Williams against Stephens and followed by Vandeweghe and Keys, guaranteeing an American champion at Flushing Meadows for the first time since Serena Williams in 2014.