NEW YORK, August 31, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
After winning his 50th straight Grand Slam first-round match earlier this week –highlighted by taking an ice bath during an extreme heat timeout – two-time U.S. Open champion Novak Djokovic earned a coveted night session starring role in Arthur Ashe Stadium Thursday night. It may not be his last this fortnight.
Djokovic put on a pretty entertaining show during his two hour and 46 minute, four-set win over American Tennys Sandgren, 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2. In fact, he rather enjoyed the experience – except maybe the third set.
The No. 6 seed from Serbia started strong and finished strong against Sandgren. Although his 31 winners were 13 fewer than Sandgren’s 44, Djokovic committed 21 fewer unforced errors (30) than Sandgren’s 51. He also broke his opponent seven times in 16 tries. Djokovic hasn’t lost before the semifinals here since 2006.
“I thought I played well for the first two sets,” said Djokovic during an on-court interview after his win, “then I got pissed off at myself and lost my concentration. At the end of the day, I regrouped in the fourth (set). Hopefully, I learned something and I’ll be a better player.”
Next, Djokovic will face No. 26 seed Richard Gasquet of France, a veteran of 13 previous U.S. Open tournaments, who advanced over 89th-ranked Laslo Deere of Serbia, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
No. 2 seed Wozniacki ousted by Tsurenko
The top two women’s seeds are now out of this year’s U.S. Open. Following the upset of No. 1 Simona Halep by Kaia Kanepi on Monday, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki lost in straight sets to 36th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-2, on Louis Armstrong Stadium Thursday night.
Tsurenko dominated many rallies throughout the one hour and 41 minute match, hitting 20 winners to just six for Wozniacki. The Australian Open champion committed 35 unforced errors and was able to only convert two of 10 break-point chances. It was Tsurenko’s seventh career win against a WTA Top 10 player and it marks the sixth time in a major that she has reached the third round. For Wozniacki, it was her third loss in four hard-court matches this summer and the second straight year she’s exited the U.S. Open in the second round.
“I think I was patient really well (tonight),” said Tsurenko. “I wasn’t nervous. I felt a lot of support. I was really happy with the result.”
Next, Tsurenko faces 55th-ranked Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who defeated Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, ranked 57th, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4).
Cilic quietly going about his business
No. 7 seed Marin Cilic needed just one hour and 19 minutes to reach the third round as he easily beat Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 6-2, 6-0, 6-0, under the Grandstand’s bright lights. The 2014 U.S. Open champion from Croatia fired 13 aces, won 82 percent of his first-serve points, hit 34 winners and dropped just 14 points on his serve without being broken.
“It was one of those days when everything worked incredibly well,” said Cilic after his victory. He outpointed the 109th-ranked Hurkacz 83-44, and will face upstart 19-year-old Alex de Minaur in the next round. Cilic is hoping to advance past the third round of the U.S. Open for the first time since reaching the semifinals in 2015. “This is where I have played my best tennis in my career, so hoping to keep it going.”
Meanwhile, the 45th-ranked de Minaur, advanced over fellow #NextGenATP star Frances Tiafoe, 20, of the United States, 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. It is the second consecutive Grand Slam that de Minaur has reached the third round. De Minaur, a finalist this year at Sydney and Washington, D.C., will try to earn his first Top 10 win (he’s 0-6) when he faces Cilic on Saturday with a berth in the round of 16 going to the winner.
Struff goes the distance to advance
Germany’s Jan-Lenard Struff reached the third round of the U.S. Open for the first time after gutting out a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over 60th-ranked Julien Benneteau of France that lasted nearly three hours on Court 11. The 58th-ranked Struff crafted a worthy performance that included 22 service aces and 22 winners – plus seven breaks of Benneteau’s serve. Next, Struff will face No. 10 seed David Goffin of Belgium, who advanced with a 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-2 win over 49th-ranked Robin Haase of the Netherlands. Goffin struck 42 winners, won 77 percent of his first-serve points and converted seven of 14 break-point opportunities.
• Other winners: Men – Joao Sousa of Portugal advanced when No. 12 seed and 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist Pablo Carreño Busta retired in the fifth set trailing 2-0. No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina beat 85th-ranked Jaume Munar of Spain, 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. No. 17 Lucas Pouille hit 54 winners en route to a come-from-behind win over Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori advanced over 39th-ranked Gaël Monfils when the Frenchman retired in the second set with an injured right wrist. Nishikori led 6-2, 5-4 when the match was halted after one hour and 18 minutes of play.
Women – No. 6 Caroline Garcia of France needed three sets to defeat 55th-ranked Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. Next, she’ll face No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, who beat 53rd-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. No. 10 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced over Taylor Townsend of the United States, ranked 73rd, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, despite committing 14 double faults. No. 11 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia lost to 33rd-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, 6-2, 7-6 (3). No. 13 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands rolled over American qualifier Francesca Di Lorenzo, ranked 193rd, 6-2, 6-1, to reach the third round of the U.S. Open for the first time. No. 14 seed Madison Keys of the United States beat compatriot Bernarda Pera, ranked 92nd, 6-4, 6-1. The 2017 U.S. Open finalist will face unseeded Aleksandra Krunic in the third round. The 49th-ranked Russia beat 57th-ranked Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-1, 6-3. No. 20 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan needed just 50 minutes to advance over Julia Glushko of Ukraine, ranked 162nd, 6-2, 6-0.
What they’re saying
• Roger Federer, who won the U.S. Open men’s title five consecutive times, from 2004-08, was asked if he’s a better tennis player today than he was a decade ago? The question came up during his post-match press conference that followed after his Thursday afternoon victory over Benoit Paire of France. The Swiss maestro said, “Well, I really hope that this guy would win today just because I feel like I’ve improved many things over the years. I’m a more complete player than I was back then. I feel like the game has evolved, as well. Serving bigger. I don’t know. It’s just a different game today. … I always feel the next generation is always better than the past one, yeah.”
• Following his second-round win over Tennys Sandgren of the United States Thursday night, Novak Djokovic was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi about the difference between playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the heat of the day, as he did on Tuesday, and during Thursday’s night session when the conditions were more favorable. Djokovic responded: “Night sessions at the U.S. Open are the most special of any tournament in the world by far. Thank you, New York, for talking during the points and between the points! I heard a lot of interesting conversations. It was a lot of fun tonight. It’s the most entertaining tournament.”
• Despite losing in the second round, Great Britain’s Andy Murray called his match against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco some of the best tennis he’s played since returning to the tour earlier this summer. During his post-match press conference Wednesday, Murray said, “It was a tough match for me physically because of the conditions, and, you know, having played over three hours the other day. This is still quite early in the process for me. Your body and things – like your hands, you build up blisters and stuff on your feet and things. These are all things that your body sort of protects you against when you’ve been playing a lot. And when you haven’t, it’s just like little bits and pieces that come up.”