Iga Swiatek tops Jessica Pegula for spot in U.S. Open semifinals

Iga Swiatek advances past Jessica Pegula in the U.S. Open. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Iga Swiatek’s game is most effective, her mind most at ease, on red clay courts, where her two Grand Slam titles so far arrived.

She sure seems to be getting the hang of this hard-court thing at the U.S. Open, though.

The No. 1-ranked Swiatek moved into her first semifinal at Flushing Meadows by pulling out a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over American Jessica Pegula on Wednesday night in a match filled with a combined 13 breaks of serve, 10 in the second set alone.

“I wasn’t expecting that at the beginning of the tournament,” said Swiatek, never before beyond the fourth round in New York. “Trying to keep my expectations low.”

Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland who won the French Open in 2020 and this June, twice failed to serve out the victory, at 5-4 and 6-5. But she was better in the tiebreaker, and when No. 8-seeded Pegula missed a backhand to close the contest, Swiatek ran toward her guest box, flung her white racket away and yelled.

This marked Swiatek’s eighth win in a row against an opponent ranked in the top 10, all in straight sets.

“I’m super proud of myself. My goal, basically, is to be consistent,” she said. “I remember when I was an underdog and every match like that was surreal. Now it feels pretty routine.”

Pegula, a 28-year-old whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, dropped to 0-4 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, including a trio of losses at that stage this season. All three of those came against a player atop the rankings at the time: Ash Barty at the Australian Open in January and then Swiatek at Roland Garros and now.

Swiatek will face No. 6 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in Thursday’s semifinals. The other women’s semifinal is No. 5 Ons Jabeur against No. 17 Caroline Garcia, who eliminated 18-year-old American Coco Gauff on Tuesday.

Of the four players remaining in the bracket, only Swiatek already owns a major championship. And only Sabalenka, who defeated two-time Slam runner-up Karolina Pliskova 6-1, 7-6 (4) earlier Wednesday, ever has been this far in New York previously; she lost in the semifinals last year.

“I’m ready for it,” Sabalenka said. “I’m ready for another fight.”

Sabalenka was bounced from the semifinals at Wimbledon last year by Pliskova. Sabalenka made sure from the start that this one would be different, racing to a 4-0 lead.

This year, Sabalenka could not participate at the All England Club, because all players from Russia and Belarus were banned over the invasion of Ukraine. Sabalenka spent that fortnight in Miami, practicing and preparing for a return to the tour.

“It was a tough time, especially when I was working out in the gym and there was Wimbledon playing on the TV,” Sabalenka said. “I was always turned it off, because I couldn’t watch it.”