After dropping his first set against the Italian Paolo Lorenzi in the third round, the pre- tournament favourite, Andy Murray coasted through in straight sets beating the hapless Grigor Dmitrov 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the first match of the night session on Labor Day. On a somewhat low key day after the heroics of Frenchman Lucas Pouille, the fancied players had little trouble booking their quarter final places at the Flushing Meadows in New York. Third seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, the 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan and the 2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro have advanced to the last eight.
The reigning Olympic and Wimbledon champion Murray, who won his maiden grand slam title at the Open four years ago, handed Dmitrov, nick named Baby Federer on the circuit, a straight set defeat on Arthur Ashe stadium in the first match of the evening session. He will next play the sixth seeded Nishikori who, also, had, surprisingly, little problems beating the 37 year old Croat Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) on Louis Armstrong stadium.
Nishikori, who lost the only major final he has contested so far, to Karlovic’s compatriot , Marin Cilic, won the fourth round encounter in just 2 hours and 2 minutes. Earlier in the day Juan Martin Del Potro played just 14 games before the eighth seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem pulled out due to a right knee injury trailing 3-6, 2-3 against the 6 ft 6in – Tower of Tandil – Del Potro. Thiem who turned 23 last week, has won four titles this year and with 68 matches played during the year is the most by any player on the tour.
The fourth spot in the bottom half of the men’s draw was secured by the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland who failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set against the little known Ukrainian Illya Marchenko.
The outcome of the two hour and forty six minute encounter on Louis Armstrong stadium was never in doubt as the top Swiss, in the absence of five time Roger Federer, won 6-4, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3 and will now play Del Potro in a repeat of their second round match at Wimbledon this year which the Argentine won. The 142nd ranked Del Potro is a wildcard entry in the men’s draw after missing in action for almost two years due to wrist surgeries on the left hand.
A day earlier, the US Open 2016 bid good-bye to one of its biggest stars – Rafael Nadal, as the French man, Lucas Pouille put on a breath-taking display of shot-making to make it 3 French men in the US Open Quarterfinals, for the first time in 89 years. Pouille took down the 2010 and 2013 US Open Champion 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6) in a match that is going to be a straight entry into the US Open Hall of Fame collection.
Pouille started the match with sizzling ground strokes off both wings and Nadal paid dearly for a relatively, slow start as the youngster served a bagel to wrap up the first set in quick time. Nadal, to no one’s surprise started working his way back and levelled the match by taking the second set.
Pouille then played with renewed intensity – a rarity among the younger generation and took a close fought third set 6-4. Pouille, who seems to have trouble keeping his focus on the game when he is in the lead, took a step back and Nadal promptly took control of the match by winning the fourth set and pushing it to a much deserved 5th set.
Nadal, who has been having a relatively barren run in 5th sets of matches over the past few years, started off the blocks in double time to strike the first blow in the final set. Pouille, however showed the resolve of a potential great Champion, when he broke back to level the set at 4-4. Things would eventually drift to a much deserved deciding set tie-break with both the players hanging on to their serve.
Nadal, as he did with the final set, raced out at the start of tie-breaker getting a mini-break straight away, but Pouille – again, found his way back and had the match in his hands at 6-3 in the breaker with 3 match points. Nadal’s experience and Pouille’s lack of it, lead to Nadal pulling things even at 6-6. Just when you thought it was game over for Pouille, Nadal threw him a lifeline by missing a sitter of a forehand.
Pouille, flexed his muscles and promptly took the chance with his 59th winner of the match to secure himself an all-French quarterfinal against Monfils. Gael Monfils, who is playing some of his most effective tennis of his career, was extremely un-Gael like and super professional in his dispatching the 2006 Australian Open finalist, Marcos Bhagdatis in straight sets. Under tricky conditions in breezy weather, Monfils was ALL BUSINESS! – something that is usually not associated with the Frenchman.
The other French man, Tsonga, started off his pre-quarterfinal in impressive fashion against the American Jack Sock. Sock was unable to bring his best game to the court and against a game Tsonga, that was trouble. Tsonga breezed through the first two sets, before Sock summoned his best tennis to grab the third set in a see-saw tie-breaker.
After a tricky first serve game, Tsonga used the scoreboard pressure to run away with the 4th set 6-2. Tsonga is attempting to make the semifinal at the US Open for the first time and with this win, he will find himself pitted against Djokovic in the quarterfinal,to make his maiden US Open semifinal.
Djokovic, who has barely played 4 sets in the first week of the tournament, looked sharp and determined to make a run at the title as he made quick work of the British youngster, Kyle Edmund. The jury is still out – regarding Djokovic’s mental and physical state – in regards to making it all the way in New York and his quarterfinal against Tsonga should provide a few more pointers.
The following is the quarter final line up with my pick mentioned first:-
Novak Djokovic (1) v. Jo Wilfred Tsonga (9)
Gael Monfils (10) v. Lucas Pouille (-)
Juan Martin Del Potro (-) v. Stanislas Wawrinka (3)
Andy Murray (2) v. Kei Nishikori (6)
Meanwhile in the women’s section of the draw, the top seed Serena Williams stayed on course for her 23rd grand slam title after a comprehensive 6-2, 6-3 win over Yaroslava Shvedova in just 68 minutes. She will now taken on the fifth seeded Simona Halep of Romania who was too strong for the Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
Halep who reached the French Open final in 2014 (loss to Sharapova) won the day’s first match on Arthur Ashe stadium 6-2, 7-5. The remaining two slots were claimed by Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and Croatia’s Ana Konjuh after upset wins over the five time former champion Venus Williams and Poland’s Agnieska Radwanska respectively.
The 36 year old Venus took the first set 6-4, easily, but the 10th seeded Pliskova rallied to claim the next two sets and the match 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3). The fourth seeded Agnieska Radwanska who had an outside chance of being ranked no. 1 on the world was surprisingly dumped in straight sets by the 92nd ranked Konjuh 4-6, 4-6.
The following is the quarter final line up in the women’s section with my pick mentioned first:-
Serena Williams (1) v. Simona Halep (5)
Karina Pliskova (10) v.Ana Konjuh (-)
Caroline Wozniacki (-) v. Anastasia Sevatsova
Angelique Kerber (2) v. Roberta Vinci (7)
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]