January 23, 2019
Serena Williams looked for all the world to be on the verge of another Grand Slam semi-final.
By her own admission, Karolina Pliskova’s mind ‘was already in the locker room.’
Then Williams turned her ankle, and in that moment the match turned too.
It wasn’t even a major injury. Just a moment of awkwardness, created by Pliskova’s stubborn streak.
But suddenly Serena lost her ruthlessness. Distracted, she squandered four match points on the slide.
‘I didn’t choke, I didn’t do anything wrong on those match points,’ Serena insisted. ‘She just played her best tennis ever.
‘But in future I have to tell myself to do what I used to do, to go psycho on match points.’
Serena didn’t unleash all-out aggression to close the match. She had looked flat all afternoon.
The price she paid was to lose six consecutive games and let another good chance to equal Margaret Court’s total of 24 Slams go begging.
‘My mind was in the locker room but I’m still here,’ said Pliskova.
And that’s how quickly these massive Grand Slam matches can turn. That’s how mindsets can change in the blink of an eye.
So it is Pliskova who will play Naomi Osaka, the straight-sets conqueror of Elina Svitolina, instead of Serena.
For Novak Djokovic, the other superstar on show on Wednesday, the task was so much more straight forward.
He too had lost his footing, during his previous match, and appeared to have done himself some damage.
Meanwhile his opponent, Kei Nishikori, had played almost fourteen hours of tennis already.
Whose body had recovered better? The answer, emphatically, was the body of Novak Djokovic. He raced to a 6-1 first-set closure. The second was going the same way.
Nishikori called the trainer. After briefly resuming, he also called it a day.
It was left to Djokovic to entertain the crowd in the post-match interview.
First he showed sympathy for his opponent.
‘I like to battle, especially against Kei. I hope it’ s not something very serious that will take too long.
‘I wish him a speedy recovery and sorry to the fans that they couldn’t see a full match, but thank you for showing up.’
Djokovic at least made the crowd laugh with his Aussie vernacular.’I don’t know mate. Good on ya. Fair dinkum!’
Then he addressed the next challenge. Surprisingly, Novak now faces Lucas Pouille, who took out big-serving Milos Raonic in four sets.
The Serb is already guarding himself against complacency.
Of Pouille, he said: ‘He won against Nadal a few years ago in New York, he has taken a few big scalps in his time and it’s his first Grand Slam semi-final. So it’s going to be tough.’
Few would bet against another epic Nadal v Djokovic showdown in the final, though.