NEW YORK, September 5, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
No. 3 seed Juan Martín del Potro overcame brutal, 95-degree Fahrenheit temperatures and stiffling humidity to defeat John Isner, the last American man left standing in the U.S. Open men’s singles draw on Tuesday afternoon. The Argentine won 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in three hours and 31 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The Tower of Tandil – all 6-feet-6 of him – advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals for the second consecutive year with his victory over the No. 11 seed Isner, himself 6-feet-10, who was seen often during the match bent over at the knees because of the scorching conditions. The match was played with the extreme heat rule in effect, which meant the players were able to leave the court for the locker room for a 10-minute break after the third set – and both of them did.
“I’m so happy to reach another semifinals in my favorite tournament,” said a smiling and relieved del Potro during an on-court interview following his win. “It was like an epic match. We both felt tired in the end, we both fight the whole match. I think I survived with my serve in the important moments in the match.”
Del Potro, who has dropped just one set en route to the semifinals – reaching his third U.S. Open semifinal and third semifinal overall in his last five majors – said the crowd kept him motivated and determined “because with this heat it’s impossible to play tennis.”
The Argentine fought through Isner’s 26 service aces and 67 winners by hitting 49 winners of his own to go along with 14 aces. Del Potro committed just 14 unforced errors while pressuring Isner into hitting 52 unforced errors. He was solid with his service game, winning all but eight points on his first serve, and saved all three break points he faced.
“It definitely was tough conditions, but I wish I could have done a little better out there,” said Isner during his post-match press conference. “It just wasn’t to be. Look, he’s so good. It was a tough match. … Juan handled it better.
“When he gets control of the point, it’s very tough to wrest it back from him.”
As the fourth set unfolded, del Potro broke Isner immediately and broke him, again, to finish the match. The crowd roared its approval for del Potro, who is ranked a career-high No. 3, as he and Isner shared a friendly embrace at the net afterward. It was del Potro’s eight career triumph over Isner and his second consecutive win over the American in a major.
“With this crowd, with these people, it’s too much atmosphere,” said del Potro.
Serena marches on into semifinals
Playing in her 100th career match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, No. 17 seed Serena Williams won for the 89th time – and in doing so, making sure there would be no replay of her 2016 U.S. Open semifinal loss against Karolina Pliskova. On Tuesday night, Williams overcame a shaky start to win easily against the No. 8 seed from the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-3. It was her first Top 10 win this year in four tries and it advanced her to her 12th U.S. Open semifinal.
Pliskova, who was the last remaining Top 10 seed in the women’s draw following a slew of earlier upsets, was playing in her sixth major quarterfinal and third straight at the U.S. Open. Meanwhile, Williams, the 23-time major champion and six-time U.S. Open champion, has had the thought of tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles in the back of her mind.
As the match developed, Williams gained momentum. She fought back from behind in the first set, down 1-4. Then, she fended off Pliskova’s comeback after leading 4-0 in the second set. Williams won 10 of the final 13 games of the match.
“Somehow, I just couldn’t find my rhythm at all in the first set, and she found it in the end of the first set, so that was the difference,” Pliskova was quoted by the WTA website as saying. “I found the rhythm in the second set, but it was too late – and she actually found it, too.”
Williams finished with 13 service aces and hit 35 winners that offset 30 unforced errors en route to her 14th consecutive major quarterfinal victory. She dictated many of the key points of this quarterfinal match that lasted one hour and 26 minutes. Pliskova mustered just three aces and committed more unforced errors (19) than winners (12).
“She’s not going to give you anything,” said Pliskova. “She’s just going to ace you or play the best points on your chances. That’s just how it is.”
During an on-court interview after her win, Williams said, “The crowd was really rooting for me and I felt so bad because everyone out here was cheering and I wasn’t winning. So, I thought I’ve got to try harder.”
Always one to play under the weight of great expectations, Williams was asked where the spark comes from. She said, “I really feel now that I’m playing free. You know, I was having a baby this time last year. So, I have nothing to prove. I’m doing the best I can.”
Asked to describe how she remains so consistent, Williams said, “When I get to a Grand Slam, I want to play really hard and I want to do really well. You know, I love it. I love this game. I love playing. So, maybe that’s why.”
Next, Williams will chase after her ninth U.S. Open final appearance when she faces No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in Thursday’s semifinals. Sevastova upset 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who was seeded third, 6-2, 6-3, on Tuesday afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
What they’re writing
Christopher Clarey, tennis columnist of The New York Times, from “A New Generation of Women Makes Itself Heard”: “Naomi Osaka’s noisy morning strolls around New York are on the verge of getting quite a bit noisier.
“She is a crossover figure to begin with because of her dual Japanese and Haitian heritage and her deep American connection. But she is on her way to reaching a much wider public because of ability to smack a tennis ball with Williamsesque authority.
“It served her well again on Monday at the United States Open, where Osaka fought through a next-generation duel with Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round that was full of winners and suspense.
“Osaka’s 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory, which was secured only after Sabalenka saved three match points in the final game, put her into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“A tear rolled down Osaka’s cheek when it was over, which was understandable. Even if Osaka’s elders might not feel as if she has been waiting all that long for such a breakthrough, that is not the way you experience your own timeline at age 20.”
What they’re saying
• Whether the pressure of defending her 2017 U.S. Open title might have been too much for No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens, who was knocked out in the quarterfinal round by No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, the American said: “When you don’t play big points well, the match gets away from you. I think that’s what happened today. I didn’t convert. I didn’t play the big points well, and you don’t win matches when you don’t take your opportunities. Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting. It just was a really tough day. The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.” On Sevastova, Stephens said: “She’s a great player. She plays a little bit different than most girls. She hits a lot of drop shots, she slices, she changes it up a little bit. It’s always a difficult match, but I thought she played solid today. The better player won.”
• U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier was asked by Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone (who formerly coached Roger Federer and now is currently working with Taylor Fritz) about the difference between coaching a team and coaching an individual. Courier said: “So, my coaching has only been in the team format. I haven’t coached any individual player. The biggest takeaways for me is how different everyone is and how they receive and input information. So, having to learn how to work on my communication skills has been a big part of the challenge for me as a Davis Cup captain to trying to integrate myself into players who have day-to-day coaches. … Some players don’t need a lot of calming; some players need a lot. So, there can be a lot of psychology to ‘How are we going to work through our stress right now as opposed to what’s happening on on the other side of the net?’”