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American women serve up success for partisans at US Open
Comeback queens will be in the ascendance at the US Open on Thursday. Three of the four women's semi-finalists have battled illness or injury to be within reach of one of the biggest prizes in the sport.
Coco Vanderweghe, who takes on Madison Keys is the odd one out. "Unfortnuately I don't have any compelling comeback stories," said the 25-year-old American after her quarter-final victory over top seed Karolina Pliskova. "I think I'm out of that narrative a little bit ... I'm sorry I can't help there," she told reporters after the match that propelled her to her first semi-final at the US Open.
What she does share with the other semi-finalists is nationality. It is the first all-American line-up since 1981. Back then it was Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter.
Fast forward 36 years and it is Vanderweghe, Keys, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.
Keys' return from the brink started in the spring. She lost in the first round in tournaments in Miami, Charleston, Madrid and Rome. She didn't fare much better at the French Open. There she was ousted in the second round. The setbacks pushed her into her a second bout of surgery on her left wrist in 10 months.
"There were definitely a lot of dark moments," Keys said after sweeping past the Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-3 on Wednesday night.
"Having all the things that were thrown at me this year and having some really low moments, there was a moment where I came off the court and I said: 'I don't know if I'm ever going to win a tennis match again'".
But the mood lifted in the summer with a third career title at Stanford in California. Her opponent in that west coast showdown was Vanderweghe whom she also beat at the WTA event in Cincinnati just before the US Open.
"To have this semi-final appearance really feels good and makes me really proud of myself," Keys said. "This means the world to me. If someone told me this is where I would be right before Wimbledon I wouldn't have believed them."
Venus Wiliiams won the second of her two US Open titles in 2001 when her semi-final opponent Sloane Stephens was still at primary school.
The 37-year-old must get past the 24-year old to reach her third Grand Slam final of the year. She lost in Australia to her sister, Serena, and went down in straight sets to Garbine Muguruza at Wimbledon in July.
Williams' exploits have taken her back into the top five for the first time since 2011, the year she was diagnosed with the strength-sapping ailment Sjogren's Syndrome. Seeded ninth, she will be favourite for the tie against Stephens who is starting to show the form that took her to the semis at the Australian Open in 2013.
Stephens said she had time to reflect and learn perspective while she was out of the game for 11 months after surgery on her left foot.
"I'm really excited and proud of all of us for getting this far," Keys said. "USA all the way."
The 22-year-old added: "The game being taken away from you really makes you realise how much you love it. And it takes a lot of the pressure off just because you remember why you do it.
"In a strange way, it was probably one of the best things to happen to all of us, just to remind us how much we love it and how lucky you are to be able to do this for your job."