NEW YORK – Serena Williams already was struggling to keep up in a fast-paced U.S. Open semifinal when she stopped behind the baseline after a third-set point and leaned over. She held that pose for a bit, then clutched at her lower left leg and asked for a trainer.
While Williams took a medical timeout for a tape job for what she later said was an Achilles issue — her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title seemingly slipping away — her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, sat in a sideline seat, eyes closed, calm and composed as can be.
After a delay of about five minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium, action resumed, and while Williams raised the force of her shots and volume of her shouts, it was Azarenka who finished off a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory Thursday to return to a major championship final for the first time in seven years.
“Maybe," Williams said, "I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point.”
The loss left her just short of the record-tying No. 24 yet again.
She was beaten in the finals of four of the preceding seven Slams, including at Flushing Meadows in 2018 and 2019.
“I mean, it’s obviously disappointing. At the same time, you know, I did what I could today,” said Williams, who has six U.S. Open singles trophies. “I feel like other times I’ve been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot.”
With her 39th birthday a little more than two weeks away, the question will become: How many more chances will Williams get? She did confirm afterward she’ll head to Paris; the French Open starts Sept. 27.