Young phenoms chasing history. Three Americans hoping for their first Grand Slam title. Four former major champions. Two soon-to-be No. 1 players in the world.
The men’s and women’s semifinals at the U.S. Open aren’t hurting for storylines. Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old new American star, is trying to complete her ascension to the top of the sport. So too on the men’s side is 20-year-old Ben Shelton, the unseeded American who has burst onto the scene this week. They’re joined by former Slam champions and familiar faces Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka. Completing the group: a pair of veterans, American Madison Keys and Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, who have both come within a single win of a major title before.
Who’s going on to this weekend’s finals? Let’s take a look at the semifinal round.
No. 6 Coco Gauff vs. No. 10 Karolina Muchova
When: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
Gauff was the popular pre-tournament pick to win it all, and there’s no reason to change that prediction coming off her breezy win over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals. Gauff and Muchova, who lost to Iga Świątek in this year’s French Open final, have met just once, but it was a big match, and a recent one — Gauff rolled, 6-3, 6-4, in the Cincinnati final in August.
Muchova has had a strong year after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2022, reaching the top 10 for the first time in her career. That includes several solid showings on hard courts and two wins over Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed here who’s still lurking in the other semifinal. But Gauff is on the biggest roll of her young career, going 16-1 so far since Wimbledon and appearing to put it all together, and will have 20,000-plus friends on her side when these two meet Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. This will be the 59th match at a major for Gauff, despite being just 19, and her second semifinal. She has the experience and the talent. It feels like it’s all coming together for her.
The pick: Gauff
No. 17 Madison Keys vs. No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka
When: Thursday, following Gauff-Muchova
Gauff got plenty of attention leading into the U.S. Open, but there wasn’t much hype for Keys, her fellow American and the 2017 runner-up in New York, after an unremarkable summer. She withdrew early in Montreal with a hip injury and lost her opener in Cincinnati. But Keys is very much a factor here, with perhaps the most impressive body of work at this tournament of any of the semifinalists, beating the top American (No. 3 seed Jessica Pegula) and the Wimbledon champion (No. 9 seed Marketa Vondrousova) in the last two rounds, both in straight sets.
The second-ranked Sabalenka has been on a roll, winning all 10 of her sets so far in the tournament. Only one was closer than 6-3. Her run has ended in the semifinals in each of the last two U.S. Opens after largely impressive starts — a reminder to perhaps not read too much into those previous matches — but the big-hitting Sabalenka is playing the best tennis of her career. She won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, has reached the semifinals at all four majors this year (the first woman to do so since Serena Williams in 2016), is winning a career-best 83 percent of her matches this season, and will be the new world No. 1 for the first time in her career after this tournament. She also handled Keys, 6-2, 6-4, in the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year. Keys can win this, but it feels like Sabalenka’s turn to get through to the final.
The pick: Sabalenka
In an American-flavored U.S. Open, Madison Keys makes her statement
No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev
When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET (approx.)
At this point, Alcaraz is firmly into “what else needs to be said” territory. He is the defending U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion. He’s been wowing fans with mind-bending shots and tireless play for well over a year. He hasn’t been tested in this tournament, losing just one set so far, and it’s getting harder to imagine anyone else hoisting the trophy Sunday.
Now come the tests. We know Medvedev is capable of winning the U.S. Open — he stopped Djokovic from getting the calendar-year Grand Slam in the 2021 final for his only major title so far — but can he stop Alcaraz at the U.S. Open? The two have met three times, with Alcaraz winning both of their matches this year rather easily — 6-3, 6-2 at Indian Wells in March and 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in the Wimbledon semifinals. Medvedev had a good hardcourt spring, winning the Miami Open immediately after that Indian Wells loss, but his summer has been less promising. Alcaraz feels inevitable.
The pick: Alcaraz
Ben Shelton vs. No. 2 Novak Djokovic
When: Friday, 3 p.m. ET
Shelton, the new unseeded American phenom, has had a charmed run through this U.S. Open, but now it gets serious in a hurry. The 20-year-old suddenly finds himself sharing the stage with the top three players in the world. Shelton has knocked off two seeded countrymen who had more hype coming into the tournament — No. 10 Frances Tiafoe and No. 14 Tommy Paul — and also advanced past a former Grand Slam champion, Dominic Thiem, who retired with an illness in their second-round match after losing the first set. But he’s about to take a huge step up in weight class.
Djokovic, of course, has the men’s record with 23 Grand Slam singles titles and is two wins from tying Margaret Court’s all-around record of 24. He’s eager to get it done here with the younger generation led by Alcaraz finally breaking through, threatening to close Djokovic’s window faster than he would like. Aside from losing the first two sets of his third-round match against fellow Serb Laslo Djere, Djokovic has been near-flawless. Shelton will need his blistering serve, which has been broken seven times in the last two matches, to hold up against one of the great returners in the history of the game to have any chance. The pro-American crowd on Ashe will do its best to lift him up, but this is likely the end of the fairy-tale run.
The pick: Djokovic
Novak Djokovic, 16 years after he won over the U.S. Open, is letting his play be the show
(Photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)