Feb. 15 (UPI) — Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams leads a trio of American female tennis players who each are one win away from clinching a spot in the semifinals at the 2021 Australian Open.
Williams entered the tournament as one of the favorites to advance in Melbourne. No. 24 Jennifer Brady and No. 61 Jessica Pegula never advanced to the quarterfinals at the Grand Slam and were not expected to be contenders — but they are.
“We have all really pushed each other over the past year,” Pegula told reporters Monday. “Maybe we haven’t said it to each other, but I think we all can feel it.
“We are all pushing each other to get to that next level.”
Pegula battles Brady in a quarterfinal match Wednesday, which ensures that at least one American will advance to the semifinals. Brady or Pegula will meet world No. 1 Ash Barty or Karolina Muchova at the semifinal stage of the first Grand Slam of 2021.
The big-serving American trio have won a combined 24 of 26 sets in Melbourne. Williams, Brady and Pegula have taken out world No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 13 Victoria Azarenka en route to the quarterfinals.
“We are all pretty similar,” said Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula. “We all hit pretty big and are always looking for a forehand shot.
“[Williams and Brady] both serve really well and I’ve gotten better. It’s pretty awesome to see us in the quarterfinals.”
Odds to advance
Williams, 39, has the most experience of the three Americans, but she also has the toughest quarterfinal matchup. The eight-time Australian Open champion takes on Simona Halep on Tuesday.
Williams is favored to win the match, despite her lower world ranking. She is 9-2 in career matches against Halep. Williams has a 3-1 record against Halep in Grand Slams, but lost to the Romanian in their last matchup, the 2019 Wimbledon final.
“It’s the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam and I’ve been here more times than I can even count,” Williams told reporters Sunday. “That’s the right attitude for me to have.”
Williams ripped through her first three matches, with straight sets victories over Laura Siegemund, Nina Stojanovic and Anastasia Potapova. She then knocked out Sabalenka in three sets to advance to the quarterfinals.
Brady, 25, has yet to drop a set through her four matches.
She started the tournament with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Aliona Bolsova in 59 minutes. She also dispatched of fellow American Madison Brengle in a 52-minute, second-round match. Brady then beat Kaja Juvan and Donna Vekic to advance to the quarterfinals.
Pegula, 26, upset Azarenka — a two-time Australian Open champion and 2020 U.S. Open runner-up — in her first round match. She followed that straight-sets win a victory over Samantha Stosur.
Pegula then beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-1 in her third-round match. She scored another upset over Svitolina in the fourth round to advance to the matchup with Brady.
Pegula beat Brady in straight sets in the first round of the 2020 Cincinnati Masters, their only career matchup, but Brady is favored to win Wednesday’s match over her American foe.
Romania, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Czech Republic also are represented in 2021 Australian Open women’s singles quarterfinals.
At least two American women have now advanced to the quarterfinal stage of three consecutive Grand Slams. At least two American women also have advanced to the singles quarterfinals in six of the last seven Grand Slams.
Brady and Pegula have sent text messages to each other throughout the week. They wished each other well in their latest post-match comments.
“We both know each other so well,” Brady told reporters on Monday. “I’m really looking forward to it. I think everyone back home in America will be watch.
“It’s a guarantee to have an American in the semifinals.”
How to watch
American tennis fans can watch Williams face Halep and Pegula battle Brady on Tuesday on Tennis Channel and ESPN2. Australian Open action airs from 6 to 9 p.m. EST on Tennis Channel and from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. on ESPN 2.
Serena Williams vs. Simona Halep at 3 a.m. EST Tuesday on ESPN2
Jennifer Brady vs. Jessica Pegula at 7 p.m. EST Tuesday on Tennis Channel
Moments from Serena Williams’ career