NEW YORK   -   A loose and confident Victoria Azarenka overpowered Elise Mertens 6-1 6-0 on Wednesday to advance to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open where she will face a familiar foe in Serena Williams. 

Azarenka, smiling and bobbing her head along to music being played during changeovers, spread the court with 21 winners to dominate 16th seed Mertens in their first career meeting. She took the first set after the normally rock solid Belgian sent a forehand wide for her 13th unforced error of the frame. And the 31-year-old Belarusian did not take her foot off the gas in the second, running Mertens around the court and sealing the win when her opponent dumped a backhand into the net. 

Azarenka, who won her first title in four years at the Western & Southern Open last month, said she is appreciating her time on the court more than ever. “I don’t think I have ever enjoyed tennis, to be quite honest,” she said. “I felt that it was a job and something you were meant to do. Winning, you enjoy it. Losing, I was so upset and for a couple of days I couldn’t function normally. “Now nothing bothers me. I can say I am feeling the moment.” 

Serena Williams was forced to dig deep to secure a 4-6 6-3 6-2 U.S. Open quarter-final victory over unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday, keeping alive her latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. Williams, a six-times champion in New York, struggled with Pironkova’s slice forehand early and was at risk of her earliest U.S. Open exit in 14 years until she used her experience to find a way back against a resurgent Pironkova. 

“I’m happy to be standing here ... because at one point I was pretty close to not being here,” Williams said during the on-court winner’s interview. “I keep fighting and that’s one thing that I am super excited about is I never give up.” 

THIEM TAMES DE MINAUR TO BOOK SEMIS SPOT

Second seed Dominic Thiem delivered a sublime performance to dismantle Australian Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 on Wednesday and canter into the semi-finals of the U.S. Open. Thiem needed a little over two hours to record the win under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium despite being put under constant pressure by De Minaur, who is nicknamed ‘Demon’ and known for his never-say-die attitude and speedy court coverage. 

De Minaur advanced to the net at every opportunity to disrupt Thiem’s baseline game and while the plan worked initially the 27-year-old Austrian adjusted and started finding winners past his advancing opponent. De Minaur’s serve was vulnerable all night and Thiem, who amassed 43 winners, converted seven of his 13 breakpoint opportunities. De Minaur could take only two of the seven chances he had to break Thiem’s serve. 

“I had a great feeling from the first moment on,” Thiem said during his on-court interview. “My feeling was that the first set, not until the second time I broke him, was really intense. Very long rallies.”