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Social Sound Off: Semi-Charmed Life

Social Sound Off: Semi Sweet
By Nicholas J. Walz
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

In a year in which we’ve had six different Grand Slam singles champions, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that we already have a trio of US Open semifinalists – China’s Peng Shuai, Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova and Japan’s Kei Nishikori – who are making their Grand Slam semi debuts.

Peng, at age 28, needed 37 major main draw appearances before reaching the final four. The lefty Makarova, 26, is participating in her 29th main singles draw. Neither woman has been higher than No. 14 in the world (Peng, in 2011) in 23 combined years as professionals, yet both are two wins away from a championship. Nishikori himself only cracked the Top 10 in singles four months ago.

And if you picked them to advance this far from the start, you’re likely either directly related to the players named or remarkably prescient.

It’s time to sound off again. USOpen.org wants to know – in the last 25 years, which Open semifinalist, man or woman, do you think has been the most surprising? We’ll start with a few suggestions and leave the decision in your hands: Answer in the comments section below. Best responses will receive a special shout out when we reveal the results tomorrow.

Here are some nominees:

Jimmy Connors – 1991: It’s the quintessential “old school” US Open run, with highlights showing a 39-year-old Connors – unseeded and a wild-card entry after an unprecedented 18 consecutive years as a seeded player between Forest Hills and Flushing Meadows – pumping his fist and defying father time. Connors would outduel “marathon man” Aaron Krickstein in a fourth-round five-setter still remembered and revered by fans today. Connors would next knock out Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, who had beaten No. 1 seed Boris Becker, before ultimately losing to Jim Courier.

Venus Williams – 1997: In her very first US Open, a 17-year-old Williams was the first woman since Pam Shriver in 1978 to reach a US Open singles final on her first attempt and was the first unseeded US Open women's singles finalist since 1958. To reach the semis, the future two-time Open champ had to beat former Australian Open finalist Anke Huber along the way. Williams would beat No. 11 Irina Spîrlea before ultimately losing to fellow teen Martina Hingis in the 1997 women’s final.

Mikhail Youzhny – 2006: The future Ph.D. of Philosophy was never expected to pass the test of three high-seeded Spaniards in succession – No. 11 David Ferrer, No. 6 Tommy Robredo and finally, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal – but Youzhny did just that en route to his first career Grand Slam semifinal, losing to Andy Roddick. He had never been to a quarterfinal before then, and at 32 years of age at present, the only major in which he’s advanced that far has been here (he duplicated the feat in 2010).

Kim Clijsters – 2009: Clijsters had already been in two US Open finals before 2009, even winning it all in 2005. It was the timing of her second US Open title run that was so remarkable: After retiring in 2007, Clijsters missed more than two full years before deciding to come back to play as a wild card in just two tune-up events – Cincinnati and Toronto – before receiving another wild card for New York. Her path to the semis included three-set wins over future Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli and No. 3 Venus Williams, and then a 6-2, 6-4 victory over future French Open and Australian Open winner Li Na. She’d beat defending US Open champ Serena Williams in that semifinal, and followed with the clincher over Caroline Wozniacki. Honorable semi mention goes to Clijsters’ compatriot Yanina Wickmayer, who reached her only career major semi thus far at that very same 2009 Open.

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