Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki yesterday booked a return to the US Open final as China’s Peng Shuai was stricken by cramps and retired from their semi-final in tears.
Peng was taken from the court in a wheelchair as Wozniacki, leading 7-6 (7/1), 4-3, was declared the victor and will now face Serena Williams for the title.
Williams defeated Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-3 in the second semi-final to set up a clash with the Dane, who saw her match end in difficult circumstances.
Peng, in growing discomfort in the second set in the bright sunshine bathing Arthur Ashe Stadium court, was overcome in the eighth game of the second set, reeling to the back of the court where she was eventually attended by a trainer and a supervisor.
She was helped from the court and granted a confusing and controversial mid-game medical timeout as Wozniacki was left to try to stay loose by hitting a number of practise serves.
Peng returned to the court, and after a break of 10 minutes, played five more points before she was stricken again, finally crumpling to the court, her grand slam dream in tatters.
Wozniacki joined the officials at her opponent’s side and soon thereafter the umpire pronounced the final score.
“It was very difficult to watch,” Wozniacki said. “You want to battle and finish it properly. I feel sorry for Peng because she played really well. I hope she’ll be okay.
“It was really hard for me whenever I saw her collapse on the court. Tennis is great, but the health is more important.”
Wozniacki, who shocked five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, is back in a grand slam final for the first time since losing in the 2009 US Open final to Belgium’s Kim Clijsters.
“It’s incredible to be in the final, I have goosebumps,” added Wozniacki, a 22-time WTA Tour winner who hadn’t reached a major semi-final since the 2011 US Open, when she was ousted by Williams. “I’ll go to have an ice bath, then watch the other semi. It’s been five years since I’ve been in the final here so it’s incredible to be back.”
Roger Federer will attempt to make the most of his second chance and reach the US Open final for the first time in five years today.
The second seed saved two match points in the fourth set on his way to beating Gael Monfils from two sets down in a terrific quarter-final.
Federer won the tournament every year between 2004 and 2008 but since then has found it a frustrating venue. In 2009 he lost the final to Juan Martin del Potro, while in 2010 and 2011 he held match points against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals only to lose both times.
The last two years have brought defeats by Tomas Berdych and Tommy Robredo before the last four, so it was no surprise Federer was particularly thrilled to achieve the feat in New York.
He said: “It’s just unbelievable to win matches like this at slams. I have won other big ones in other places. But over best of five, saving match points against Gael in an atmosphere that it was out here, it’s definitely very special.
“I’m not sure I have ever saved match point before in a slam. I’m unbelievably happy that it was now, because I knew I could play better after the first couple of sets.”
In the semi-finals, Federer plays Croatian Marin Cilic, who is through to his second grand slam semi-final less than a year after serving a four-month ban for a doping offence.
Cilic used the time away from the game to focus on training and improving his game and is reaping the rewards.
“I feel I’m playing probably the best tennis of my career,” said the 25-year-old, whose previous semi-final came in Australia in 2010. “But I’m not getting satisfied too easy. I made it to the semis and it’s completely different for me now than in 2010. At that time I was maybe a little bit too shocked and I didn’t know how to deal with it afterwards. But now I’m cool and it’s going well.”
A big part of Cilic’s resurgence has been the improvements he has made, particularly to his serve, under coach Goran Ivanisevic.
Cilic said: “Probably the only matches I watched on TV were Goran’s Wimbledon matches. That’s my only memory from tennis at a very young age.
“And then later I started to play with him when I was 14. He was out due to his shoulder injury. That was huge to play with my idol.
“Goran is everything but not boring, we always have a good time.”
The hopes of a nation rest on the slim shoulders of Kei Nishikori, who is bidding this weekend to become the first-ever Japanese to play in the singles final of a Grand Slam tennis tournament.
He outlasted Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in five sets in the US Open quarter-finals to become the first Japanese man in 81 years to reach the last four of a major tournament – and the first since Grand Slam events were opened in 1968 to allow professionals to compete with amateurs.
Now, just the minor obstacle of the world number-one Novak Djokovic stands between the 24 year-old and history.
"His fatigue may be at its peak but he is determined to 'get stronger and stronger and reach the final,'" the daily Nikkan Sports said. "He is right in front of an untrodden realm."
Nishikori's father Kiyoshi, 57, told the Asahi newspaper: "Kei tends to work a miracle by playing beyond his physical limits when he has a fixed goal to focus on."
The first Japanese player to reach the semi-final of a major tournament was Ichiya Kumagae — in 1918 at the US championship men's singles. Two years later, Kumagae became the first Japanese Olympic medallist in any sport when he lifted the men's singles and doubles silver medals at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
Elsewhere, Gael Monfils let slip two match points which would have given him a famous US Open triumph over Roger Federer on Thursday and said: "It's cool".
The 28-year-old went down 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 to the 17-time Grand Slam champion in the quarter-finals after seeing two match points in the 10th game of the fourth set as Federer reached his ninth US Open semi-final to stay on course for a sixth title.
The 33-year-old Swiss second seed, bidding to become the oldest winner of a Grand Slam title in more than 40 years, was staring down the barrel of a demoralising exit when French 20th seed Monfils had him on the ropes. But once he had averted the danger, Federer then swept past the exhausted Monfils in the final set.
"I think it was cool. I think he hit two big serves and a good forehand volley and then a good forehand down the line. I think, you know, I did my best, so it was okay," said Monfils who had been bidding to make just his second semi-final at a major after a run to the French Open last four in 2008.
Monfils had roared into a two-set lead, firing winners off both flanks as Federer tried and failed to convert break points. He even berated umpire Carlos Ramos for his officiating telling him that he didn't know what was wrong with him before an uncharacteristic bout of petulance saw him chop his racquet into the net.
The victory was Federer's 26th in 27 night-time matches in New York and put him just one win away from a career 600 victories on hard courts, a landmark he can reach if he defeats Marin Cilic to make the final.
Croatian 14th seed Cilic toppled sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) earlier Thursday to reach his first US Open semi-final.