NEW YORK (AP) — Karolina Pliskova came into the U.S. Open with the dubious distinction of being the only woman currently ranked in the top 20 never to make a Grand Slam round of 16.
She’s now blown past that milestone, routing 18-year-old Ana Konjuh 6-2, 6-2 in just 57 minutes Wednesday to reach the semifinals.
“To be honest, I don’t care at what time it came. I’m just happy that it’s now and that it came,” the 24-year-old Czech said of finally making a deep run at her 18th career major. “There are people saying that I could be there earlier, but right now I feel great and I feel it’s the right time for having the results like this.”
She lost just one point on her serve in the first set Wednesday and never faced a break point.
“I was surprised and I was still waiting even in the first set; even in the second set I was still waiting — (thinking) some complications going to come,” Pliskova said. “But, well, I’m not going to complain.”
Pliskova broke Konjuh’s serve in the match’s opening game, forcing the 92nd-ranked teenager to play from behind right from the start.
“Her serve is just too good,” Konjuh said. “Today on the court, she found her rhythm and took the opportunities that I gave her.”
The 6-foot-1 Pliskova has the most aces on the women’s tour this season, though that wasn’t how she dominated Wednesday. Konjuh, also a big server, had more aces in the match, in fact (4-3). But she got only half of her first serves in and was broken four times, with four double-faults and 27 unforced errors.
Pliskova, who rallied to beat sixth-seeded Venus Williams in three sets Monday, has now won 10 straight matches, riding the momentum of a breakthrough title at Cincinnati. She defeated second-ranked Angelique Kerber in the final there.
Konjuh can take plenty of momentum away from Flushing Meadows too. After what had been a disappointing, injury-plagued season, her ranking is projected to soar to a career-best No. 51. She hadn’t been past the third round at a major before this tournament and upset fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska on Monday for her first win over a top-10 opponent.
The 10th-seeded Pliskova will face No. 1 Serena Williams or No. 5 Simona Halep on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, I’m in the part of the draw with Serena,” Pliskova said.
Another free pass for Djokovic at US Open when Tsonga stops
NEW YORK (AP) — Normally, it takes wins in five full matches to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. Novak Djokovic has made it that far at the U.S. Open by playing only two, because three opponents pulled out of the tournament with injuries.
Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, once again needed to put in very little work, advancing to the final four at Flushing Meadows for the 10th consecutive year when No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stopped because of a hurt left knee Tuesday night.
The first two sets of their quarterfinal went Djokovic’s way, 6-3, 6-2. At the ensuing changeover, Tsonga was visited by a trainer and had his left leg taped below the knee. They played one point to begin the third set: Tsonga double-faulted, then retired from the match.
This came after Djokovic’s second-round opponent, Jiri Vesely, withdrew from the tournament with a sore left forearm. And then the man Djokovic was supposed to play in the third round, Mikhail Youzhny, quit after six games and only 31 minutes with a strained left hamstring.
“I put myself in a position again to be one match away from the finals. As tournament progresses, I feel like I’m getting better,” Djokovic said. “Of course, this Grand Slam is very unique for me: I never experienced something like this — to have three retirements on the road to the semifinals.”
Tsonga said when the pain came Tuesday, “I knew it was over for me straightaway.”
“It’s already tough to play against one of the best tennis players,” Tsonga said, “but when I don’t have my knee, I have no chance to come back from two sets to love.”
On Friday, Djokovic will play No. 10 Gael Monfils, who advanced earlier against No. 24 Lucas Pouille, the man who eliminated Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. Playing steadily, and with only a dose of the spectacular, Monfils reached his first major semifinal since 2008 by beating an error-prone Pouille 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in an all-French quarterfinal.
For all of his deep runs at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic has won only two of his 12 Grand Slam titles at the hard-court tournament, in 2011 and 2015. He’s lost in four finals and three semifinals over the past decade.
It’s tough to know exactly how well he’s playing at the moment, simply because no one has seen him on court all that much lately: less than 6½ hours through five rounds.
After his streak of four consecutive major championships — the first time a man had done that in nearly 50 years — was capped by his initial French Open title, Djokovic was upset in the third round at Wimbledon. He returned to action by winning the Toronto Masters, but since then, Djokovic lost in the first round of the Rio Olympics while dealing with a sore left wrist that he then cited in skipping the Cincinnati Masters.
Djokovic’s right arm was massaged by a trainer in his first- and fourth-round matches at the U.S. Open, so getting all of these free passes hasn’t been a bad thing.
“In this stage of the season, considering some physical issues I have had in the last month, month and a half, this was the scenario that I needed and I wished for. I got a lot of days off and recovered my body,” Djokovic said. “Right now, I’m feeling very close to the peak. That’s the position where I want to be.”
And that’s a scary thought for Monfils. When Djokovic is at his best, his returns, court coverage and groundstrokes are as it good as it gets in today’s game.
Monfils, who turned 30 last week, only once before made it to a Grand Slam semifinal, 8 1/2 years ago in front of a partisan crowd at the French Open. But he has been fantastic during this tournament, winning all 15 sets he’s played.
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