Caroline Wozniacki, Peng Shuai move into U.S. Open semifinals

Caroline Wozniacki hits to Sara Errani in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Robert Deutsch/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

 

Caroline Wozniacki knew, as anyone paying attention does, that the woman she played in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, Sara Errani, does not hit booming serves.

And after noticing that Errani’s previous opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, tried unsuccessfully to pound those soft serves, Wozniacki decided the best course of action was simply to make sure she put those balls in play.

Getting all 34 of Errani’s serves back over the net, and then claiming 26 of those points, Wozniacki parlayed six breaks and a 26-12 total edge in winners into a 6-0, 6-1 victory over the 13th-seeded Errani in a wind-whipped match Tuesday night.

The victory for the 10th-seeded Wozniacki moved her into her first Grand Slam semifinal in three years.

"I learned quite a lot from Lucic the other day. She was going for every return and trying to make winners on every return," Wozniacki said. "For me, that wasn’t really the game plan today. It was just putting pressure on her from the start, and kind of start the rally from there."

Wozniacki, a former No. 1 who eliminated five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in three sets in the fourth round, will face unseeded Peng Shuai of China in the semifinals.

Peng got so frustrated with her inability to make a serious run at a major title that she nearly quit the sport in 2006, a thought that crossed her mind only once before — when she had surgery to repair a heart defect at age 12.

Her day finally came Tuesday, when Peng beat 17-year-old Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-1 to earn a spot in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in 37 tries. Only five women have participated in more major tournaments before getting to a final four.

"My coach, my parents, they always tell me to try to keep going and never, ever give up," said the 28-year-old Peng.

Italy’s Errani averaged only 65 mph on second serves, and 78 mph on first serves, and that was a problem.

"I hoped she would miss something here and there," said Errani, who beat Venus Williams in the third round, "but today she practically never missed."

With the players’ towels and spectators’ napkins and all sorts of things being tossed around by the stirred-up air, Wozniacki dealt with the conditions far better than Errani. Although not right away.

The match began competitively enough, with a pair of points that lasted more than 20 strokes apiece in the first game. Errani earned four break points before 2009 U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki eventually held despite a double-fault in which one serve didn’t come close to reaching the net.

"I have played in some very windy conditions here, but I know how to adapt," said Wozniacki, the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2009, and a semifinalist in 2011. "It just took me a few serves to kind of get into the rhythm and figure out where to throw the ball and what to aim for."

Errani was a finalist at the 2012 French Open, and made it to the final four at that year’s U.S. Open, too.

She’s accustomed to outrunning opponents on court and wearing them down. On this night, Wozniacki — who has been training to run the New York City Marathon in November for charity — did that very thing to Errani.

WHERE IN THE WORLD ... ?

"Maybe," Errani said with a chuckle, "I need to run the marathon, too." 

It’s not quite a marathon, but Peng is making her longest run in a major. Before this year at Flushing Meadows, she had reached the fourth round of a major tournament five times but had never advanced further in a career going back to 2001.

The 39th-ranked Peng becomes the third Chinese player to make a major semifinal after two-time Grand Slam tourney champion Li Na and Zheng Jie, a two-time semifinalist.

Peng has not lost a set and kept up that consistency against Bencic, hitting 24 winners and committing only seven unforced errors. Her young opponent, meanwhile, appeared to become unglued in the muggy, 92-degree heat of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The 58th-ranked Bencic was the youngest quarterfinalist at Flushing Meadows since her mentor, Martina Hingis, won the title at 16 in 1997. Bencic is coached by Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor.

The Swiss teen was issued a code violation for receiving help from her box while down 2-0 in the second set.

"It’s 6-2, 2-0 and you’re giving me a code violation?" Bencic yelled at the chair umpire.

She went on to lose that game to go down 3-0.

"It was a little bit tough," Bencic said later, "but I think it was (an) awesome tournament for me."

The soft-spoken Peng explained that doctors at one point suggested she should quit the game after heart surgery as a 12-year-old, and she later considered quitting on her own in 2006 after injuries and bad results caused her ranking to slip. She persevered and came back to make three Grand Slam fourth-round appearances in 2011, helping her reach a career-high ranking that year of No. 14. Playing mostly with partner Hsieh Su-Wei, Peng reached the No. 1 ranking in doubles this year.

Asked to explain why she is doing so well at the U.S. Open now, after so many years of falling short, Peng was at a loss.

"Maybe this time I find a way," she said, "or I catch the right time."