US Open: Serena Williams prepared for ‘lights out’ tennis in bid for final

Serena Williams is preparing herself for “lights out” tennis from Victoria Azarenka as the two mothers face off for a place in the US Open final.

The 38-year-old will step onto court inside the Arthur Ashe Arena for her 120th US Open match on Thursday night knowing there is a formidable opponent at the other end.

Williams, who is continuing her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, faced Azarenka in the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals and believes she must up her game for this meeting.

“I just gotta be a little bit better,” she said. “I need to just expect people to go lights out and just be ready for lights out [tennis].”

The signs are there that Azarenka will meet Williams’ expectations and bring her ‘A game’. She dismantled Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-1 6-0 in their quarter-final and won 30 of 48 points during the encounter.

The former world No 1, who is one of a number of mothers back at the top of the game, is delighted at the prospect of facing Williams again on the Grand Slam stage.

“I love playing against Serena,” she said. “I think we have one of the best matches – at least that I played in my career – against her.

We always played on big stages. She’s one of the players who pushes me to the limit and who makes me better. I’m excited for that.

Victoria Azarenka

The two players have significant respect for each other, not only with regard to their tennis, but due to the fact they are both juggling elite sport and motherhood.

“To see that rise of women being able to fulfil their dreams, as well as balancing the motherhood, I think they all are heroes,” Azarenka said earlier in the tournament.

“I really, really appreciate all of them. And I hope this continues to go on where women are inspired to do what they love to do but still being able to go after what they want.”

After facing Tsvetana Pironkova, who has just returned from three years out to start her family, Williams hailed the fortitude shown by all mothers on the tour.

“It just shows me how tough moms are, when you birth a baby it shows me that you can do anything,” Williams said.

Friday’s semi-final will be the 23rd meeting between Williams and Azarenka, with the 23-time Grand Slam champion holding an 18-4 head-to-head record against her opponent.

However, Azarenka has the ability to make Williams move all over the court and test her for a prolonged period of time. Pironkova was able to do that for a set in the quarter-final, but Azarenka has the confidence to take Williams the distance.

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The first semi-final on court will be between the high-performing Jennifer Brady and former US Open champion Naomi Osaka.

The 28th-seed Brady has never been beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam before but has reached this semi-final without dropping a set.

Her power from the back of the court has been a cornerstone of her performances and despite sharing how nervous she has been, her poker face has been exceptional throughout.

Brady and Osaka have only met twice before, back in 2014 and 2018, however Brady knows exactly what to expect from her opponent.

“Naomi has won a Grand Slam. She’s obviously a great player. Very powerful, big serve, big shots off the baseline, one-two punch. She’s a really good player.”

Despite Osaka’s greater experience, Brady is approaching this semi-final in a positive mood after putting in so much work with her new team.

“I decided to go to Germany because I found a new coach and he was based out of Germany, as well as my trainer there, Daniel. I decided if I want to give myself an opportunity to maximise my potential and see how far I can get as a tennis player [I needed to go].

“I think I have matured. I definitely have gotten a lot fitter, I feel a lot stronger out on court, have a lot more confidence in myself and my game.”

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At the start of the tournament, Osaka vowed to continue highlighting issues of racial injustice and has worn a mask bearing the name of a different shooting victim for each round of this year’s tournament.

“A lot of people ask me if I feel more stressed out ever since I started speaking out more,” she said.

“To be honest, not really. At this point, like, if you don’t like me, it is what it is. You know what I mean? I’m kind of here for pride. I don’t have to be here.”

This confidence has translated onto court and, with the assistance of coach Wim Fissette’s PowerPoint presentations, she has attacked each match with a clear game plan.

Brady will present a challenge for Osaka, as the American is a very different player to the one that she used to be, however the former champion has the nous to cope with it.

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