NEW YORK, September 3, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
With all of the top seeds eliminated from the upper half of the women’s singles draw – the latest coming Monday after No. 1 Naomi Osaka lost to No. 13 Belinda Bencic – either Bencic, No. 15 Bianca Andreescu, No. 23 Donna Vekic, or No. 25 Elise Mertens will be a finalist in this year’s United States Open. None of them have made it past the quarterfinals in New York before, and Andreescu is playing in her first US Open main draw.
Speaking of Andreescu, she’s been one of the hottest players going during this year’s New York fortnight. On Monday night with the roof closed in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 19-year-old Canadian from Mississauga, Ontario, figured out the serve-and-volley strategy of 116th-ranked American qualifier Taylor Townsend, who has been one of best stories of this year’s US Open, in a big way.
Andreescu won 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in one hour and 57 minutes. She was ready to play from the first point forward and scored at will with her repertoire of shots and a big-bang return game.
“It wasn’t easy – that’s for sure – and I normally don’t play against people like this,” said Andreescu during a TV interview with ESPN after her win against Townsend. “I made sure to work on my passing shots yesterday during practice and I think it worked in the first and third sets. She picked it up in the second set. I’m glad I kept my cool at the end.”
During the 31-minute opening set, Andreescu raced to a 3-0 advantage over Townsend as she broke the 23-year-old resident of Atlanta, Ga., in her first service game. She increased it to 4-1 by containing Townsend’s ability to win points on her first serve (3 of 12, 25 percent) or at the net (7 of 17, 41 percent) and finished the set with her third break in four opportunities, outpointing Townsend 33-20.
Then, Townsend came to life in the second set by going up 3-0, thanks to breaking Andreescu in the second game bookended by a couple of solid holds as she made some adjustments to keep her opponent off balance. Townsend began to find her grove and energy and the Ashe crowd finally was given something to cheer about on the American’s behalf.
Soon, Andreescu closed the gap with a hold and a break in the fifth game – her fourth against Townsend – to get back on serve. She leveled the second set with an easy hold for 3-all. As the match reached the one hour mark, Townsend held for a 4-3 advantage and Andreescu followed with another easy hold. But after Townsend held for 5-4, she broke Andreescu from 30-all with a running forehand winner and Andreescu double-faulted for the seventh time in the match, coming on set point.
In the deciding set, Andreescu pushed ahead to a 3-1 lead thanks to a huge forehand passing shot winner. Then, she broke Townsend for the sixth time to take an insurmountable 4-1 advantage. Andreescu held at 30 when Townsend hit a long return and it put the young Canadian just a game away from advancing to the quarterfinals of her first US Open. However, Townsend wasn’t through. Down 0-40, she saved three match points and later saved a fourth one when Andreescu netted a playable return. The American held serve to prolong the match, but still faced a tough hill to climb. Finally, Andreescu closed out the match on her fifth match-point opportunity and became the first Canadian female since Patricia Hy-Boulais in 1992 to reach the US Open quarterfinals.
Andreescu finished with 33 winners but also hit 26 unforced errors. Townsend’s 25 winners were overshadowed by 24 unforced errors. Andreescu outpointed Townsend 91-72. Ironically, by the end of the match, Andreescu won more points at the net – 17-16 – than Townsend.
Andreescu gave props to Townsend, saying “Oh, she had an incredible run, coming from qualies and getting to the fourth round, it was incredible. She has a different game than many people, so I think she’s going to get far.”
Mertens lowest seed to reach quarterfinals
Elise Mertens of Belgium, seeded 25th and the lowest remaining seed in the women’s draw, reached her first US Open quarterfinal with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over 141st-ranked wild card Kristie Ahn of the United States on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Mertens dropped only two games and needed just 67 minutes to put away the former Stanford University All-American, who was born in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., home of the US Open. Next, she will face Andreescu in the quarterfinals.
“I’m just trying to focus every time I step on court, just trying to look at point per point,” Mertens said during her post-match news conference, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “I was trying to play aggressive, trying to improve myself. That’s probably the main key. Just try to focus throughout the whole match.”
The 23-year-old Mertens, a native of Leuven, won 72 percent (31 of 43) of her service points and backed it by garnering 59 percent (26 of 44) of her receiving points against Ahn. She saved all three break points she faced. Mertens outpointed Ahn, 57-30, which included 17 winners.
“I just play it match by match, I try to improve every time,” said Mertens, who has lost just 16 games through four rounds, fewest of any player remaining in the draw. “Hopefully I can go much further than this.”
The loss ended a dream week for Ahn, 27, who strung together wins over two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Kalinskaya and Jelena Ostapenko – without losing a set – before losing against Mertens. She made her Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2008, but it took until 2019 for Ahn to record her first main draw win. It’s the largest gap between Grand Slam main draw debut and first Grand Slam main draw match win in Open Era history.
“It was weird because I felt like I wasn’t playing badly,” Ahn recalled afterward. “I looked at the scoreboard, I’m like, ‘You’re getting whooped.’
“I thought she played very smart. She had a game plan, and she executed it very well. I think a lot of it had to do with her kind of breaking my rhythm or not allowing me to have rhythm. I don’t think she allowed me to see the same ball twice.”
By the numbers
For the third straight year, there will be four different women’s singles champions at the Grand Slams. As New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey tweeted, “This is the first time in the Open Era that this has happened three years in a row.”
What they’re saying
Coco Gauff, 15, after losing to World No. 1 Naomi Osaka in the third round of her first US Open main draw: “For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy but off the court can be your best friend. I think that’s what she did tonight.”
What they’re writing
Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, from “Osaka’s Credo: ‘Do It From the Heart’: “Coco Gauff, at age 15 and in her first United States Open singles tournament, got it just right.
“What makes Naomi Osaka special is her capacity to lock in and play ruthless tennis, and then, with the handshake complete, to zoom out and have the humanity to sense the bigger picture.
“It is a rare and appealing combination. And it was on full display in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday night as Osaka, the world No. 1, played one of her finest and most focused matches to overwhelm Gauff, the sport’s latest prodigy, 6-3, 6-0. Osaka, only 21 herself, then immediately put herself in her crestfallen young opponent’s sneakers, helping her turn a negative into a positive.”
Tuesday’s women’s schedule
Singles quarterfinals / Arthur Ashe Stadium
No. 5 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 16 Johanna Konta, noon
No. 8 Serena Williams vs. No. 18 Wang Qiang, 7 p.m.