serena williams*It’s now down to the wire of the 2013 US Open.

With the second week of the tournament well underway in New York, the weak have been separated from the strong and the lucky from the unlucky.

And regardless of which of the two groups they’re repping, those who remain are so close to taking home the coveted US Open trophy and record prize money, they can almost taste it.

Left to scrap it out Friday in the upcoming semifinals on the women’s side are unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta, a surprise to all; no. 5 seed, China’s  Li Na; no. 2 seed, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus; and last but certainly not least, the no. 1 seeded American, Serena Williams.

Ready to duel to the finish on the men’s side are, nos. 8 and 9 seeds, Frenchman Richard Gasquet and Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka – both surprises; no. 1 seeded and world no. 1 Serbian, Novak Djokovic; and the no. 2 seeded tenacious Spaniard, Rafael Nadal.

Of those 8 men and women, two will rise above the rest to earn the honor of being named 2013 US Open champions.

Based on the results of the US Open series leading up to this point, the winners are predicted to be Serena Williams and Raphael Nadal.  Both accomplished athletes won the series on their respective tours (WTA and ATP ), earning enough tournament wins and points to set themselves up for record-setting payouts for two weeks of work – and I don’t use that term loosely, of 3.6 million dollars – if they win their championship matches.  There are formidable obstacles in their way, such as the Serena-solving Victoria Azarenka and  Li Na, whose playing lights out tennis lately, and as for Nadal, Novak Djokovic, who has something to prove.   Most betting folks, though, have their money on the American and the Spaniard.

Joining the usual suspects, Serena and Azarenka, world nos. 1 and 2 respectively, Li Na’s  was somewhat expected to go deep in the tournament; she’s been playing very well.  The unseeded Pennetta, however,  wasn’t on anyone’s radar and has caught the tennis talking heads and fans completely by surprise (in other words, she’s the lucky one). Her results have been insignificant this season and to find herself at this stage of a Slam is pretty stunning … but she’ll take it, I’m sure.  On-paper deep-run favorites such as Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic leaving their games in the locker room, plus the sudden injury withdrawal of Maria Sharapova opened the door for an expected entrant like Pennetta to steal one of the semifinal slots.  Only God can get her past this point, though, as she has a losing record to those who stand in her way of winning her first Grand Slam.  She faces Azarenka in the first match held on Friday.

The ATP was poised to see all four of its top dogs, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer (with an asterisks due to a shaky series showing) make it through to the final rounds, but last minute upsets of Ferrer and Murray have altered that outcome.  Now, as it is with Pennetta, Gasquet and Wawrinka (also falling in the lucky group) are occupying those slots, praying to find the game to outlast the “two kings.”  Again, only God … Yeah, you know the rest.

And shouts out to the 30-something women that have displaced the youngsters at the US Open.   Li Na, Pennetta and Serena Williams are all 31 years old, which by conventional tennis wisdom, would have them out behind the BJK tennis center chewing on grass … But they’re here, competing for the grand prize.  Roger Federer, Tommy Haas, and Lleyton Hewitt, all over thirty, had chances to join the elder ladies, but tumbled out just before the semifinals stage.

venus and serena Also down to the wire are the men’s and women’s doubles championships.  Repping for the US, the record smashing Bryan twins were just ousted from the tournament in the quarters, en route to winning the only Grand Slam in the men’s doubles in 60 years, but Venus and Serena have quietly … well, sort of … crushed the number 1 seeds, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, 6-3, 6-1, earning a spot in the semis.  The win for the sisters was revenge for a loss the pair dealt them at the most recent Australian Open.  Venus and Serena don’t play doubles much, but when they do, they are obviously the team to beat.  Being lower ranked due to the lack play, they always end up as unseeded dangerous floaters who knock out the top teams earlier than usual and … oops, they did it again.

Catch Serena (taking on Li Na) in action in both singles and doubles on Friday beginning at 3:45pm Eastern.