Six players in the US Open semi-finals have never reached a Grand Slam final. The other two are Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. The most daunting of obstacles stand in the way of maiden triumphs, writes Michael Hincks.
It’s business as usual for Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, but the others around them are breaking new ground.
Daniil Medvedev and Matteo Berrettini, both 23, are into their first Grand Slam semi-finals, so too 22-year-old Belinda Bencic and 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who go head to head on Friday night.
For Elina Svitolina, 24, it is a second semi-final, and 28-year-old Grigor Dimitrov a third, two years after he reached the last four at the Australian Open.
Men's semi-finals: Nadal vs Berrettini, Dimitrov vs Medvedev
Women's semi-finals: Williams vs Svitolina, Bencic vs Andreescu
Ultimately, Nadal and Williams – who are into their 33rd and 38th semi-finals respectively – are the only players left in the singles draw to have reached a major final, and their experience and ruthlessness at this stage means those targeting a maiden triumph have an incredibly daunting task to overcome.
Nadal and Williams’ record at Grand Slams
Nadal: 32 semi-finals, six defeats
Williams: 37 semi-finals, five defeats
When Nadal and Williams get to this stage they have a habit of not only reaching the final but winning the whole thing. Nadal has lost just 19 per cent of his semi-final matches at Grand Slams, while Williams is down at a staggering 13.5 per cent.
And so, despite seeing big names tumble, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer departing from the men’s as well as Naomi Osaka and her fellow top four seeds in the women’s, it all matters little with Nadal and Williams still standing.
The duo both won at Flushing Meadows in 2013, and six years on they are overwhelming favourites to do so again.
For Williams, that would be 20 years after her first Grand Slam title, and a record-breaking one to boot – 24 would see her level with Margaret Court.
For Nadal it would see the Spaniard move within one of Federer’s record haul of 20, and given his dominance at the French, he will be expected to surpass the Swiss with or without victory this weekend.
With just four days remaining in New York, we are either on the verge of crowning two new champions and heralding a new era of the sport, or we are close to seeing two familiar faces hold off the pack once more.
The money will be on the latter. After all the thrills so far this fortnight, the only shock now would be if they weren’t both holding silverware again.