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Sparkling Venus, Vandeweghe book spots in Australian Open semis

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24: Venus Williams of the United States celebrates winning her quarterfinal match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on day nine of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
January 24, 2017 10:42 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

For the first time in more than a decade, an American other than Serena Williams will play for the Australian Open championship. Of course, it’s still possible the 22-time Grand Slam winner could make it an all-American battle for the crown.

Unseeded CoCo Vandeweghe out-hit Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-4, 6-0, and No. 13 seed Venus Williams defeated No. 24 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6, on an exciting Day 9 of quarterfinals play in Melbourne, setting up an all-American semifinal in Melbourne.

Their victories guarantee an American finalist for the third consecutive year. Either Venus (pictured above) or Vandeweghe will be the first American not named Serena to play for the title since Lindsay Davenport made the final of the Australian Open 12 years ago.

Serena remains on track to join one of them if she wins her next two matches, starting with Wednesday's quarterfinal against ninth-seeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain.

Should two Americans contest the women’s final, it would be the 11th time this has happened at the Australian Open. And if it does feature the Williams sisters, that would be the 15th time they’ve met in a major and the ninth time they’ve battled in a final. It would be a remake of the 2003 championship match which Serena took in a close three-set thriller when the siblings were ranked first and second in the world.

Tuesday’s quarterfinals in the top half of the draw saw the two Americans play some of their best tennis of the fortnight.

Venus broke five times inside Rod Laver Arena and lashed more winners (35) than errors (29) against her 25-year-old Russian opponent. The seven-time Grand Slam champion has yet to lose a set Down Under and she’s broken each of her first five opponents at least four times.

That was the theme once again against Pavlyuchenkova, whom she broke in consecutive service games at the end of the first set and twice more in the second to force a tiebreak. Venus lost the first two points of the breaker, and three of the first four, but she reeled off the final six points with a flourish to punch her ticket to the semifinal.

Her victory marks the third time Venus has been to the semifinals at Melbourne Park and the first time she has been this deep in the tournament since 2003. It also reaffirms her status as a legitimate title contender. From 2012 through 2014, Venus failed to make it past the third round at a Grand Slam. Her fortunes began to turn back around in 2015 with quarterfinal runs at the Australian Open and US Open, and at Wimbledon last summer she made the semifinals of a major for the first time in six years.

Later Tuesday evening, Vandeweghe had too much power for big-hitting Spaniard Muguruza to handle, creating 13 break-point chances and saving the only two break points she faced. The Californian secured a crucial break in the seventh game of the first set and then steamrolled the No. 7 seed on the back of three straight breaks in the second.

If Vandeweghe had any nerves as she closed in on her first Grand Slam semifinal, it never showed, and she converted her first match point to advance to the final four.

Vandeweghe now has wins over defending champion and world No. 1 Kerber, reigning French Open champion Muguruza, 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci and former world No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard in the past nine days. A win over an in-form Venus would be as good as any of her previous results this week and it would take her within one victory of her first Grand Slam title.

Elsewhere on Day 9, Mike and Bob Bryan remained on track for their seventh Aussie Open title, and 17th Grand Slam crown, with a 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 quarterfinal win over Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers; Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Czech partner Lucie Safarova dropped just two games against fellow American Raquel Atawo and Yifan Xu in the women's doubles quarterfinals; and Mike Bryan and Mattek-Sands pulled double duty to move into the third round of the mixed doubles with a straight-sets win against Xu and Fabrice Martin.