Apart from the great Serena Williams, the line-up for the US Open women’s singles semi-final wouldn’t have matched many predictions. We have last year’s runner-up Madison Keys, who’s been blowing hot and cold this year, plagued by injuries. Her opponent, the young Naomi Osaka, will be featuring in her first last-four match in Slams. Then, we have Serena’s opponent, Anastasija Sevastova, whose second-best result at a Slam was a fourth round appearance, seven years ago at Australian Open.

Based on her experience and current form, Serena would be favoured more than the rest to win the title at New York. But the other three are capable of springing a surprise.

Serena Williams v Anastasija Sevastova

Head to head

First meeting  

Road to semi-final

First round beat Magda Linette 6-4, 6-0 beat Donna Vekić 6-2, 2-6, 6-3
Second round beat Carina Witthöft 6-2, 6-2 beat Clare Liu 6-3, 6-1
Third round beat Venus Williams 6-1, 6-2 beat Ekaterina Makarova 4-6, 6-1, 6-2
Fourth round beat Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 beat Elina Svitolina 6-3, 1-6, 6-0
Quarter-final beat Karolína Plíšková 6-4, 6-3 beat Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3

Former world number one Williams has looked more and more her old dominant self as the US Open has progressed, firing 41 of her tournament leading 60 aces in her last three matches. Her 17th seeding is above her current world ranking of 26, but well below her standard of play in her sixth tournament since returning in March after the birth of daughter Olympia six months earlier.

Her path to the last four included a comprehensive victory over elder sister Venus, a three-set fourth-round battle with hard-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi and an impressive straight-sets win over eighth-seeded former world number one Karolina Pliskova.

Chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, Williams said she won’t get ahead of herself, having fallen agonizingly short in the Wimbledon final against Angelique Kerber.

“I have a really long way to go,” Williams said as she looked ahead to her first career meeting with Sevastova, who is in the semis for the first time after quarter-final exits the past two years.

Sevastova, who relies on a wide variety rather than power in her game, ousted third-seeded defending champion Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals. She knows she’s facing a tough challenge in Williams’s aggressive game.

“I need to find some solutions,” the 19th-seeded Latvian said.

Madison Keys v Naomi Osaka

Head to head

2016 US Open – R32 – Madison Keys 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3)

2017 Indian Wells – R32 – Madison Keys 6-1, 6-4

2018 Roland Garros – R32 – Madison Keys 6-1, 7-6 (9/7)

First round beat Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-4 beat Laura Siegemund 6-3, 6-2
Second round beat Bernarda Pera 6-4, 6-1 beat Julia Glishko 6-2, 6-0
Third round beat Aleksandra Krunić 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0, 6-0
Fourth round beat Dominika Cibulková 6-1, 6-3 beat Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 2-6, 6-4
Quarter-final beat Carla Suárez Navarro 6-4, 6-3 beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1

Keys is aiming to improve on her runner-up finish to fellow American Sloane Stephens in Flushing Meadows last year, while Osaka is through to a first career Grand Slam final. The American has won all three prior meetings with Osaka, including a third-round match at Flushing Meadows two years ago in which she rallied from 5-1 down in the third set to win in a tiebreaker.

Osaka has made significant strides since then, capturing the prestigious Indian Wells title in March with wins over five-time major champion Maria Sharapova and world number one Simona Halep.

At Miami she beat Serena Williams in the first round before exiting in the second.

Keys narrowly defeated Osaka in their most recent meeting in the third round of the French Open.

“I have played her a lot, so I already know how she plays, and I know that she’s a very powerful player,” Osaka said. “She’s really good, plus, she’s American, so the crowd will probably be rooting for her.”

Keys said Osaka would have forgotten about the events of 2016.

“I think it will be a completely different match. And she’s grown a lot since then, as have I, so I think it’s going to be a tough match and I don’t think that’s going to be on her mind,” she said.

With inputs from AFP