Sep 09, 2021

2021 US Open WTA Semifinals Predictions

Semifinals are here and despite these not being the names we may have expected, these matchups could not be more exciting. It’s a rare occurrence, but the 4 players left in each draw are the 4 players who’ve been playing the best in the event.

Raducanu vs Sakkari :

Emma Raducanu. How good is she? I honestly don’t know, and it’s because in every match she’s played, she’s looked completely capable of elevating to the level that’s going to win. She deals with the offensive pressure, and she moves the ball when she has a chance to. There are just so few errors with the way she’s playing right now, and Bencic fell victim to this today. I wouldn’t say that Bencic felt that Raducanu was going to fold, but when you first play someone, there is a probing period where you’re trying to figure out the right way to play them. When they don’t make any mistakes, it’s very easy to wind up a bit flat. Bencic, like Rogers, had an early break in the first set and when Raducanu broke back, the match momentum shifted in a major way. Bencic didn’t play her best tennis today, but no one has against Raducanu. There is something very difficult to hold about an early break in tennis, and Serena was probably the best on tour at winding up down 2-0 and steamrolling back. This win will put Emma into the top 40 on tour and with her ability it is unlikely that she will drop below that for the rest of her career. Expectations and what-ifs aside, she is already one of the best tennis players I have seen.

Questions about who she can beat are more interesting than they are answerable. What I think is useful to look at is the caliber of win so far. The draw is not her fault, but when comparing her level to Sakkari it is the most concrete thing we have to go on (besides what our eyes have seen). Voegele, Zhang, Tormo, Rogers and Bencic are unlikely to win a tournament against Kostyuk, Siniakova, Kvitova, Andreescu, and Pliskova (Sakkari’s draw thus far). Sakkari has played a legendary set of players, and has won in very straightforward fashion. Pliskova did well, but needed to pitch a perfect game in order to get past Maria. Heading into this semi, you have to give a slight nod to Sakkari. Her serve is a bit more powerful, but maybe not as consistent. Her backhand is a bit more defensive, but she’s already played a ton of brilliant defense with it. We haven’t really seen Raducanu makes errors yet, but if they’re going to come against anyone, it’ll be Sakkari. Raducanu does seem to hit the ball bigger on her backhand than Sakkari, and she has dismissed some difficult defensive tests, but I am not sure that she makes it through the lineup that Sakkari just has. Add in the fresh sting of the French Open loss for Sakkari after having taken out Swiatek in impressive fashion, and this seems like a spot where Maria will be both motivated and sporting the best tennis of her career thus far.

The tough part for Sakkari will be the pressure that this is hers to win. She is an exceptional player, but she doesn’t blow her opponents off the court, so errors creeping in may make her falter at times. For Raducanu, this pressure doesn’t really exist. The genuine joy and surprise that she’s shown when she won is really contagious, and it’s pretty clear that her tennis is good enough to handle the moment. This is a prediction, but I am also excited about this matchup. Raducanu hasn’t shown any cracks yet, and seeing her proceed to more and more difficult tests and pass them is casually hinting that she may be a world-class champion at some point. Since this is the semifinals of the US Open, that point could be now. Two insanely talented players with completely different stories playing their best tennis in the absolute weirdest city for a major title. I love it. I don’t want anyone to lose, but I think Sakkari will be the first player who makes Raducanu really work for every point, and her edge in fitness is always going to be a bigger factor late in events. Sakkari in 3.

Fernandez vs Sabalenka :

I was a bit surprised to see that these two haven’t played before. That’s how long it feels like Fernandez has been around the tour. It’s easy to forget she’s so young, because she’s already won a title, already been in epic matches, already fought hard for big upsets and come up short. It’s the maturity that’s really refreshing from her this week. She’s that good, she’s put in the work on tour, and she’s winning in spots where people expect her to just go away. I am not sure if it’s proper to say, but the fact that she is tiny makes watching her win even more fun. In her match with Svitolina, I felt she’d be outclassed in the crosscourt exchanges, but they never materialized. Svitolina changed some of her shot patterns and attempted to just keep the ball on Leylah’s backhand. An okay plan, but one that took her out of her normal rhythm. She played much better in the second set, but Fernandez has really proven in these last two rounds that she moves the ball better than the defensive specialists, and in safe manner as well. If you make errors, Kerber and Svitolina will beat you every time. Fernandez has a similar chance as they did against Sabalenka here, but I am not overly optimistic.

Luckily, I’ve gotten the last two Fernandez matches wrong, so you can ignore me. She has struggled a bit against taller/bigger hitters though. She has losses to Riske, Krejcikova, Jabeur, Kvitova, and Keys this year and Sabalenka is very similar to the others in that category. This is the best Fernandez has played, but the aggressive returning of Sabalenka, and the consistent play she’s brought so far have really stifled her opponents. The idea in beating Sabalenka is to move her and to capitalize on her errors. She’s always made a few overzealous mistakes in a set, and she has some double fault issues at times also. Against Collins, none of this happened. Against Mertens, the same thing. When Aryna plays solid, it almost seems like the other person is swimming upstream. Her serve is bigger, her forehand is bigger, her backhand is not as accurate as Fernandez’s, but it certainly is a heavy ball. The question that keeps her from being a complete lock is whether this level will continue. At some point, she’ll have so much tour experience that the errors will subside. Is this that point? Her game is the biggest on tour, and even in matches where she’s losing (the Serena loss last year at the USO comes to mind) she still seem dangerous. If she wins in two here, she’ll be the fresher player by far for the finals. Fernandez presents a similar question to Raducanu but to a lesser degree; where is her ceiling and since she’s improving right in front of us, it is high enough to beat Sabalenka? I don’t think so yet, but she has definitely earned her spot here and will force Sabalenka to play a very high level if she wants to win. I think she will. Sabalenka in 2 close sets.