NEW YORK -- It was a great day for American women's tennis, certainly, with Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams each winning third-set tiebreakers Tuesday to steer them into all-American semifinal matchup at the U.S. Open. And with CoCo Vandeweghe and Madison Keys set to take the stage Wednesday for their respective quarterfinal matches, the intriguing possibility remains that there will be two all-American women's semifinals and, possibly, an all-American final.
"It's been a great two weeks for American tennis," Williams said. "All I have known all my life was great American players, so it's great to see this resurgence, and I hope it can continue."
But Tuesday's events transcended patriotism and partisanship. Stephens' 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) quarterfinal victory over Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia and Williams' 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2) victory over Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic at Arthur Ashe Stadium were illuminated by the resilience all four women have shown through illnesses and injuries, getting them past baffling slumps and frustrating setbacks.
Stephens lost her first two matches after an 11-month recovery from foot surgery but has since zoomed from 975 in the rankings to 83 before the Open. She's on her way to the top 35, nearly unimaginable following her first-round exits at Wimbledon and a hard-court tournament in Washington.
"I said eventually I'm going to beat somebody and then I'm going to beat two people in a row," she said of her first halting steps back. Sevastova, whose drop shots and clever angles gave Stephens fits for most of Tuesday's match, retired for two years because of constant injuries but unretired and has now reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in two straight years. She was gracious about falling achingly short of another significant triumph. "She really deserves it," Sevastova said of Stephens. "Really, respect for her."
Kvitova is still healing from a knife attack last December that damaged her left hand and jeopardized her career. Her strength hasn't fully returned but she still hits hard enough to have upset No. 3 Garbine Muguruza here before tripping up on 45 unforced errors and nine double faults against Williams. "It was amazing to see her shine today," Williams said.
Williams' first trip to the semifinals here since 2010 -- and her third foray to at least the quarterfinals in four Slams this year -- topped them all. Now 37 and 20 years removed from her runner-up finish in her Flushing Meadows debut in 1997, she has been slowed but not stopped by Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease. "She's a champion," said Kvitova, who said she hopes Williams becomes the champion here. "I think those are the words which describe everything."
In Williams' case, they do. "I think sport is a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you're down, you keep going," said Williams, who came back from 1-3 in the third set against Kvitova on Tuesday and took a 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker before she double faulted. She sealed it on her second match point, on an errant backhand by Kvitova. "Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for," Williams added. "It's very encouraging for people to watch. ... You never know whose life you'll touch just by being your best."
She has accepted that she's not the same person she was when she won here in 2000 and 2001. "I had perfect health. It was great. I loved it," she said. "I was fortunate to have that moment in my life. And now I'm still living my dream, and it's amazing."
Stephens, unseeded here, is now 7-0 in three-set matches this year. That takes nerves, patience and guile, which she had in full measure Tuesday. The crowd loved her, fans' roars combining with the rattling of trains outside the stadium and the awful buzzing noise that plagues Ashe stadium to produce a near-madhouse. "It was incredible. I couldn't hear anything," she said. "It was so loud in there. But I think that's what tennis players play for."
It was not lost on Stephens that Americans could take all the semifinal spots; 20th-seeded Vandeweghe is scheduled to play No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova and 15th-seeded Keys will play unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi. Asked if she thought American women would dominate, Stephens had a confident answer. "I didn't think we couldn't," said Stephens, who has a 1-0 career record against Williams, a match that was played on clay.
It was significant to Stephens too that three of the last four American women are black American. "It's great for American tennis. It's great for African American women," Stephens said. "I hope that we keep it going. There's really not much to say other than it's amazing."
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