Three Americans are into the last four at a major for the first time since 2002 after Wednesday saw Serena Williams and Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni join Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe in the semi-finals.
But threatening to overshadow the American theme is the age of the players. Three of the quartet are in their mid-thirties, prompting Serena to say: “No matter what happens, someone 34 or older will be in the final.”
Serena, the younger but more successful of the Williams sisters, crushed Sydney-born Johanna Konta 6-2 6-3. The American continued her unstoppable form, having not dropped a set all tournament and was at her menacing best in the first set.
The ninth-seeded Brit showed more fight in the second, getting to 3-1. Serena got frustrated at missing so many first serves, but the 22-time major winner imposed herself once again to close out the match with five straight games.
The four-time champion at Melbourne Park is now into the semis of a major for the 10th time in a row. The last time she exited at an earlier stage was Wimbledon 2014.
She will face Lucic-Baroni next, who had a hard-fought 6-4 3-6 6-4 upset win over fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, having also beaten third seed Agnieszka Radwanksa in the second round. Indeed, she has been the fairytale story of this year’s Open.
The world No.79 Lucic-Baroni made a Wimbledon semifinal in 1999 as a teenager but fled Croatia for the US to escape an abusive father. She was expected to be the next big thing, but so disturbed was she that she left tennis completely from 2004 to 2009, which would have been her prime years.
Lucic-Baroni played ultra-aggressive, hitting 42 winners with the majority on her stronger forehand side. She also nullified Pliskova’s powerful first serve with the Czech only winning 55% of those points.
Down 3-4 in the decider, she took a medical timeout off the court and returned to win 12 of 13 points. The emotions were raw as she fell to the court in tears and again broke down in an on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs.
“One day, I will say a long big story about things that happened to me, but I never could about being here again,” a tearful Lucic-Baroni said.
The Croatian will start as the substantial underdog in her next match, not a position that is foreign to her. To give some perspective, Serena and Lucic-Baroni’s encounter Thursday will be their first in 19 years.
A similar theme is recurring in the men’s draw with three of the last four aged in their 30s.
That is after 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal beat Milos Raonic 6-4 7-6 6-4 to make his first slam semi-final since the 2014 French Open.
Nadal started sharply and broke in the seventh game with two cracking backhand winners, a feature of his performance all night, before serving out the opening set.
The Spaniard saved three set points when serving to stay in the second at 4-5. The climax of the match was the tiebreak, which was tense and absorbing.
The Canadian, ranked No.3, hit an incredible forehand lob to bring up two more set points. In all, Raonic had six set points and blew them all, including serving a double fault when leading the breaker 6-5. When Nadal was afforded his first set point, he took it.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2017
Raonic had a long hill to climb when he was down two sets and it was made more difficult because of an upper leg issue, which he had taped up in the middle of the second set.
Nadal remains on course for a dream final against old adversary Roger Federer.
But before then he’ll have to get past Grigor Dimitrov, who downed 11th seed David Goffin 6-3 6-2 6-4 to remain unbeaten this year, having won the title in Brisbane earlier this month.
Nadal leads the Bulgarian 7-1 in past meetings.
Stanislas Wawrinka v Roger Federer
Grigor Dimitrov v Rafael Nadal
Coco Vandeweghe v Venus Williams
Serena Williams v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni