Madison Keys was one of four American women in the U.S. Open semi-finals a year ago, when she was the runner-up.
She’s the only member of that quartet who made it back to that round.
Still in search of her first Grand Slam title, the 14th-seeded Keys reached her third semi-final in the past five majors by using her big-strike game built on serves and forehands to overpower No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-4, 6-3 at Flushing Meadows on Wednesday night.
Keys, who is 23, thinks she is more equipped than ever to deal with important moments on important stages.
“I’ve gotten a lot better managing my emotions once it gets to this part and knowing that everything is going to be probably more amped up,” she said. “And not shying away from those, but just really being honest about it and talking about it.”
Keys won all 10 of her service games, saving the only two break points she faced. One came in the last game as she served for the victory, but she erased it with a forehand winner, part of a 22-10 edge in that category.
It all took less than 1 1/2 hours against Suarez Navarro, who eliminated five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in straight sets in her previous match but has never made it to the semi-finals at a major.
Keys is that far for the fourth time in her career.
In 2017, she was beaten by Sloane Stephens in the U.S. Open final; Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe were the other semi-finalists, making it the first time in 36 years that the last four women in New York represented the host country.
This time, Keys will play No. 20 Naomi Osaka on Thursday night for a chance to reach the final again. The other women’s semi-final is 23-time major champion Serena Williams against No. 19 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Osaka was an easy winner in her quarter-final, eliminating unseeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-1, 6-1 in all of 57 minutes.
With Kei Nishikori defeating 2014 champ Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in a rematch of the final four years ago at Flushing Meadows, Osaka and Nishikori give Japan semi-finalists in both men’s and women’s singles at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time in tennis history.
“It’s great to see,” said Nishikori, who will play 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic or John Millman in the semi-finals.
Nishikori is into his third major semi-final – all in New York – but is still in search of his initial Slam trophy.
For Osaka, who is 20, this is her first trip past the fourth round at a major.
She purported to be “freaking out inside,” even if it certainly never showed.
Tsurenko had dealt with heat issues in the fourth round, when her opponent accused her of acting, and said after her lopsided loss to Osaka that she was dealing with a sore throat and problems breathing.
“Today was not my day, obviously,” Tsurenko said.
It was Osaka’s, though. She is strong at the baseline and has learned to control her strokes with the coaching help of Sascha Bajin, who used to be Williams’ hitting partner.
“I believe that they kind of want to play the same, you know. They are very powerful. Big serves. Big hitters, both of them,” Bajin said. “But even on court, Serena is very aggressive, you know, and Naomi – I have to push her to get a fist pump out of her.”
On Wednesday, Osaka only needed 12 winners because a whopping 31 of her other points came via unforced errors by Tsurenko.
The 21st-seeded Nishikori and No. 7 Cilic traded the lead and momentum for more than 4 hours. Cilic started well, taking the opening set and going up a break in the second. But then he faltered and they went to a tiebreaker, where Cilic led 4-3 before delivering two double-faults in a row.
He had a letdown at the very end, too, rallying from 4-1 down to 4-all, before Nishikori grabbed the last two games.
Nishikori missed last year’s U.S. Open with torn tendons in his right wrist.
“Especially after coming from injury,” he said, “I think I’m enjoying this challenge.”