NEW YORK, September 4, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Marin Cilic has quietly but effectively marched through the U.S. Open draw. After being on Louis Armstrong Stadium until 2:22 a.m. Sunday morning to close out a four-hour, five-set win against Australian teenager Alex de Minaur, Cilic returned to the scene of his thrilling victory on Monday afternoon rested. The 29-year-old Croatian overcame a slow start against No.10 seed David Goffin of Belgium – kept his cool – and closed well, winning 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals in two hours and 24 minutes.
The No. 7 seed from Croatia, who has won 11 of his last 12 major round of 16 matches, reached the 13th major quarterfinal of his career. Next, he will oppose No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan in a 2014 U.S. Open finals rematch, which Cilic won 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Although Nishikori leads his career head-to-head against Cilic 8-6, it is Cilic who leads 3-2 at Grand Slams.
After his win over Goffin, the 6-foot-6 Cilic reflected on his slow start. “He was playing very well in the beginning … luckily I managed to win at the end.
“At the end, he (Goffin) told me he’s got some problems with his shoulder,” said Cilic. “It was unfortunate for him. He was not playing the best the last two sets.”
However, Cilic was – and he lifted his game as the match wore on. He hit 20 of his 43 winners in the final set and finished the match with 12 aces. By the end, perhaps plagued by the same shoulder problems that caused him to retire at Cincinnati and withdraw from Winston-Salem the week before the U.S. Open, Goffin finished with 35 unforced errors.
Since facing Nishikori in the 2014 U.S. Open final, Cilic has gone on to reach the 2017 Wimbledon final and the 2018 Australian Open final, losing both to Roger Federer.
“Kei’s playing great,” said Cilic. “I’ve watched a couple of his matches. He’s hitting the ball really well and likes these conditions.”
After advancing to the quarterfinals with a fourth-round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany earlier in the day, Nishikori said he’s been pleased with the quality of his tennis.
“You know, every match I’ve been playing really good tennis, and, well, maybe I had more pressure few years ago. You know, I wanted to keep Top 10 every year, and that gave me a little bit of pressure,” said Nishikori, 28, during his post-match media. “Right now, I don’t have any pressure, but also I’m enjoying playing every match and enjoying playing tennis again a little more than before.”
Improbable comeback win for Tsurenko
Lesia Tsurenko reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal by overcoming illness en route to defeating the last remaining teenager in the women’s draw, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 6-7 (3), 7-5, 7-5, Monday afternoon on the Grandstand.
Tsurenko, 29, of Ukraine, who earlier ousted No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, struggled with her physical condition in the first set. That she endured for two more sets and stayed on court for two hours and 32 minutes is credit to her desire to win.
“I think it was some type of heat illness or something like that,” said Tsurenko as quoted by the WTA website after the match. “I have to say that I’ve never felt so bad on court. This was something new for me. I usually handle any kind of weather without any problem. But today was one of the toughest matches in my life.” Tsurenko was playing in her third career fourth-round match at a major.
“At the beginning of the second set, I could feel like a breeze, like a little wind, and it was cooler. Then, I saw the shade, and I thought, ‘Okay, I will try. I give myself some hope.’ I think the good thing that I decide to keep fighting, and then I was feeling better and better, and I came back to the match.”
Although Vondrousova, 19, finished with more winners (25-17) than Tsurenko, she also committed 72 unforced errors and Tsurenko was able to convert eight of 15 break points, including three in the final set.
In the quarterfinals, Tsurenko will face No. 20 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, who advanced with a three-set victory over No. 26 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Louis Armstrong Stadium Monday afternoon.
“I’m ready to fight. I’m ready for any kind of challenge on court,” said Tsurenko.
Sharapova loses first U.S. Open night match
Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain celebrated her 30th birthday by handing Maria Sharapova her first defeat in a U.S. Open night match. Talk about the best birthday gift ever! The Spaniard won 6-4, 6-3 in 91 minutes. It ended a string of 22 straight wins by the 2006 U.S. Open champion from Russia, who was seeded twenty-second. Suárez Navarro’s star shone brightly while Sharapova’s arguably grew dimmer.
Suárez Navarro’s defense was outstanding as reflected by the 33 points she won on Sharapova’s serve. Additionally, she broke Sharapova’s serve six times in eight opportunities and forced her into hitting 56 unforced errors. Suárez Navarro outpointed Sharapova 67-56. After winning three consecutive three-set matches to reach the fourth round, Suárez Navarro got the job done in straight sets.
“Thank you very much,” said Suárez Navarro, the No. 30 seed, in saluting the crowd for shouting “Happy Birthday” greetings in unison. “This was my first night match here this year and I’m really happy I played a good match and enjoyed it. It’s an amazing crowd.”
Next, Suárez Navarro will face No. 14 seed Madison Keys of the United States, who was a U.S. Open finalist last year. She is 0-3 lifetime against the American and will be the underdog when they meet on Wednesday. Keys advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the day session.
• Monday’s attendance of 61,962 at the U.S. Open helped the event set a Labor Day Weekend record attendance mark, with 199,187 for the three-day weekend (Saturday through Monday). The total number attendees coming to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the 2018 U.S. Open through the first eight days is 534,748, an increase of 38,273 – about eight percent – over last year.
• For the first time at the U.S. Open, a man and woman from Japan have reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam. No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber in their fourth-round match, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Then, No. 20 seed Naomi Osaka followed Nishikori’s lead and beat No. 26 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. The only other time this has happened in the Open Era occurred at the 1995 Wimbledon Championships when Japan’s Shinzo Matsouoka and Kimiko Date reached the quarterfinals.
During her post-match press conference, Osaka admitted she was unaware of the historic feat she contributed toward for her country, but credited Nishikori for his job well done in reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. She said it has inspired her run in New York. “Seeing Kei do really well in Wimbledon, that really inspired me,” she said. “I always thought if I can keep up with him, that would be really cool. I’m glad I was able to be a part of something like that today.”
• British-Brazilian duo Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, seeded fourth, advanced to the doubles quarterfinal with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Matwe Middelkoop and Robin Haase of the Netherlands on Monday. Murray and Soares, who have won seven straight matches this summer, haven’t dropped a set in the U.S. Open. The 2016 U.S. Open champions have won 11 of their last 12 matches, which has included titles at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati earlier this summer. Meanwhile, Wimbledon champions and No. 3 seeds Mike Bryan and Jack Sock of the United States advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 16 seeds Franco Skugor of Croatia and Dominic Inglot of Great Britain.
• Faces in the crowd: The U.S. Open welcomed former President Bill Clinton and Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors to Monday’s night session. Both are big tennis fans. Clinton was the last sitting President of the United States to visit the the U.S. Open in 2000. Meanwhile, Kerr was asked by ESPN sideline reporter Brad Gilbert during an interview at his box to name his all-time tennis “starting five.” He named: Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Rod Laver.
• When they meet in their Tuesday afternoon quarterfinal, No. 3 seed Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina will have played five fewer sets and three hours and 21 minutes less than his opponent, No. 11 seed John Isner of the United States.
• World No. 1 and top seed Rafael Nadal is the only man to reach all four Grand Slam quarterfinals in 2018.
• Through the first three Grand Slams of 2018, there have been three different women’s champions: Caroline Wozniacki (Australian Open), Simona Halep (Roland Garros) and Angelique Kerber (Wimbledon). With all three of them eliminated from the U.S. Open, it means there will be four different Grand Slam champions in the same season for the second year in a row.
What they’re saying
• During an interview Monday afternoon with ESPN after his practice session, Rafael Nadal was asked by analyst Darren Cahill if he still enjoys playing tennis as much as he did when he was younger. The 32-year-old Nadal said: “I feel if I am healthy I always enjoying playing tennis. I love the competition, and I always love the challenges the opponent and the competition presents me. It’s always about improving yourself. Whenever you lose something, you add something else to hold yourself to the highest competitive level. That’s the way I understand the sport. I work hard every day. My goal is to improve something.”
• What Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the No. 26 seed who lost to No. 20 Naomi Osaka on Monday – which snapped an eight-match winning streak – learned: “Sometimes you have a bad day, sometimes it’s a good day. … It wasn’t so much that I was nervous, but I was thinking a lot about the future, and I wasn’t staying in the moment.”
What they’re tweeting
British tennis journalist and blogger Abigail Johnson on Maria Sharapova: “I’ve not considered Maria Sharapova a lead contender for any major since her return to tennis. Her consistency has dropped severely, and she lacks her old intimidation factor. Carla Suárez Navarro wins 6-4, 6-3. Measured, smart tennis with some gasp-worthy winners. Well played.”