by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams lost her semifinal at the US Open on Thursday to Karolina Pliskova, 6-2 7-6(5), but that may not be the most important thing she lost on Thursday. The 22-time major champion also lost her world No. 1 ranking for the first time since February of 2013 to Angelique Kerber of Germany.
“I’m not talking about No. 1,” said Williams in her post-match press conference. “I think Karolina played great today…I wasn’t at 100 percent but I also think she played well and she deserved to win today.”
Williams discussed having a knee injury that occurred after her second round match that had been hampering her movement around the court, but was gracious in defeat as she was able to give Pliskova the credit she deserves for winning the match.
Pliskova, from the Czech Republic, has now won 11 matches in a row. After winning the premier-level event in Cincinnati, the No. 11 player in the world has come into New York and won six matches. Her goal coming into the event was to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time, and she has been able to go three rounds further, all the way into the final.
“I said I don’t believe it…actually I do believe it. I always knew I had a chance to beat anyone if I am playing my game,” said Pliskova.
The first set was dominated by the 10th-seeded Pliskova, as she went two-for-three on break points and didn’t have to face one herself. After Williams fought off a break point to hold for 2-3, she was able to take Pliskova to deuce and almost turned the tables on the first set.
Pliskova, though, withstood the effort from the American to hold before breaking her at love in the next game for a 5-2 lead, and that momentum carried over into the next game as the Czech easily held to close out the first set.
“The serve today was the key why I won,” said Pliskova.
Thanks to her dominance on serve that saw seven aces and 84-percent of first serve points won, Pliskova was able to continuously apply pressure on the Williams serve, earning a break point in the opening game of the second set. The Czech didn’t convert at that time, but would convert a few games later to break Williams for a 3-2 lead.
In the very next game, though, Pliskova faltered for the first and only time in the match, allowing Williams to have a look at a 0-40 opportunity. The American would not miss out on this chance, capitalizing on the first break point to even up the set.
Straightforward holds took the set into a tiebreak after the exchange of breaks early on. After dropping the first set on serve, Williams was able to bounce back and win both of Pliskova’s service points later in the set to grab a 4-3 lead.
The American was unable to take advantage of this lead, though, and lost her next service point before ultimately grabbing a 5-4 lead and putting herself within two matches of forcing a deciding third set. From that point on, though, Pliskova was able to win the next three points, including a double fault on match point from Williams, giving the Czech the win and putting her in the final.
“This is something amazing and I’m really excited to be in the final, and especially to beat a player like this. Serena is a champion so it’s never easy to play her…it was very hard,” said Pliskova. “I had a goal today to beat Serena and that’s what I did…I don’t care who is there in the final.”