Many Big Names Remain Alive In Western & Southern Open

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

While this year’s Western & Southern Open in New York has been characterized by an abundance of unbelievable upsets thanks to the fast courts, still, there are a lot of familiar big names remaining in both the men’s and women’s singles draws of this ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier 5 combined event. Players are building their stamina and everyone wants to be match-ready for next week’s US Open.

Tuesday’s round of 16 matches were played under near-90º conditions and the WTA heat rule was in effect at the start of play. Then, play was suspended at 6:18 p.m. because of a torrential downpour. At one point, the rain was coming down sideways. However, after a one hour and 27-minute delay for the rain to subside and the courts to be dried, play resumed at 7:45 p.m.

By the end of the fourth day of competition at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Western & Southern Open’s temporary home away from its Mason, Ohio location, the quarterfinal pairings were finally set, but not before the women’s top remaining seed, Serena Williams, was toppled. The good news is there’s plenty of great tennis still to come in the final three days of the final tune-up for the US Open. Despite no fans being allowed on the grounds to fill the stands, there’s millions watching worldwide on TV from their homes, cheering for their favorites from afar.

Medvedev working efficiently, winning quickly

Defending men’s champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia has been first on and first off the Grandstand show court each of the past two days. The 24-year-old likes to work quickly and efficiently, and Tuesday’s win over 61st-ranked qualifier Aljaz Bedene was such an example. Medvedev won 6-3, 6-3 in 68 minutes in which he fired six aces, won 89 percent of his first serves, faced no break points and broke the Slovenian three times.

“I’m really happy about it (the win), to win on this court and quite easy against Aljaz is really a challenge. So, I’m happy with myself today,” said the World No. 5 Medvedev during an on-court interview with ESPN. “I got used to the conditions and it was much better (today). It wasn’t easy for him … and I just took my chances. Every day is going to better than yesterday.”

Asked about the fast court conditions, Medvedev said he actually didn’t feel they were extra fast this year. Then, he quipped, “Any court you give me is going to be strange.”

Next, Medvedev faces No. 8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. The 12th-ranked Spaniard rallied to beat 11th seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in two hours and six minutes. Although Bautista Agut had difficulty winning points on his second serve – and wasn’t helped at all by double-faulting seven times – he was solid on his first serve throughout and it proved the difference against the World No. 16 Khachanov. The Spaniard hit 24 winners and clinched 14 of 18 points that went more than nine stokes.

In the past two days, Bautista Agut has quietly-but-efficiently gone about his business without losing a set in his first two matches, which includes wins over No. 50 Richard Gasquet and Khachanov. He’s now reached the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters for the second straight year.

Struff advances to play top seed Djokovic

When David Goffin of Belgium and Jan-Lennard Stuff from Germany took Court 10 for their round of 16 match, it featured an outstanding contrast of playing styles. Goffin did his darndest to absorb Struff’s pace while moving effectively around the court. However, much of the match was played on Struff’s terms and the 34th-ranked German scored a terrific win over the No. 7 seed. Struff ripped his 35th winner to wrap up a satisfying 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over the 10th-ranked Goffin. He fired 12 aces and broke his opponent five times during the two hour and nine-minute match.

With his victory over Goffin, it’s Struff’s eighth Top 10 victory and six of them have occurred since the beginning of the 2019 season. He’s won seven of his last 15 against Top 10 opponents.

“It was a tough one, very close again,” Struff said during his virtual press conference. “The conditions were very hot again. Yesterday, I thought it was a bit worse, the conditions, but David is a very tough player. I had some chances, he had some chances. … The last game was really good.”

Next, Struff opposes World No. 1 and tournament top seed Novak Djokovic, who gave a sharp and unhindered performance to beat American wild card Tennys Sandgren, 6-2, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals. Djokovic improved to 20-0 in 2020. Since 1990, it’s the second-best start to an ATP season. The best is Djokovic’s 41-0 mark he set in 2011.

“I’m treating this tournament and the restart of the season as normal as it can possible be,” said Djokovic during his virtual press conference. When he was asked by Tennis TourTalk about the condition of his neck, which earlier caused him to withdraw from playing doubles on Sunday and also required treatment after the first set of his singles match against Ricardas Berankis Monday evening, Djokovic said, “Actually, I’m pleasantly surprised with the way I recovered and felt today, just overall physically but also with the neck specifically, because that was a little bit of a concern.”

Opelka sets up big-serve showdown with Tsitsipas

American Reilly Opelka struck 19 aces, hit 29 winners, and won 94 percent of his first serves to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over sixth seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy. It was the 22-year-old Opelka’s fifth Top 10 win of his career and the 39th-ranked resident of Delray Beach, Fla., needed only 75 minutes to wrap up his final eight berth against fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

“I’m pretty pleased. It’s difficult,” said Opelka, who outpointed Berrettini 62-49. “There have been so many unknowns for everyone over the past couple months. So, it’s always hard to say [how you’ll perform]. But I’ve put in a lot of work, I used this time to train. I didn’t take much time off, I really didn’t. I’m not surprised, but at the same time you don’t know what to expect.”

After winning the Delray Beach Open in February, Opelka has improved his 2020 record to 10-3 with his win over the No. 8 Berrettini. He’s hit 50 aces in his three wins this week (against Cameron Norrie, Diego Schwartzman and Berrettini).

Meanwhile, World No. 6 Tsitsipas reached his first Western & Southern Open quarterfinal with his win over 2013 runner up and 16th seed John Isner, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4). The match lasted one hour and 42 minutes and was interrupted by the rain delay.

The two big servers combined for 21 aces with the American Isner collecting 11 and Tsitsipas 10. The rest of the rising Greek star’s stats were impressive. He won 84 percent of his first serves and backed it by capturing 70 recent of his second-serve points. He saved each of the two break points he faced. There were no breaks of serve by either player. Tsitsipas outpointed the 21st-ranked Isner 83-75.

By the time he reached the virtual interview room to chat with reporters, Tsitsipas appeared tired but no less happy by his success against Isner. “It was a very difficult match. My level of focus and attention had to be there all the time,” he said. “John is a very unpredictable player. He can be dry aggressive sometimes. If you don’t play with first serves, it can get quite dangerous with him. So, I think being aggressive and pressing all the time was something very important today.”

Tsitsipas, who improved to 15-5, is attempting to reach his third consecutive ATP semifinal following his title at Open 13 Provence and runner up finish in Dubai.

Raonic beats Murray for first time in six years

It’s been more than six years since Canadian No. 3 Milos Raonic beat Andy Murray. However, after the nearly 90-minute rain delay, the 30th-ranked Raonic snapped his eight-match losing streak dating back to 2014 against the Briton with a satisfying 6-2, 6-2 victory. It left the 134th-ranked Murray, a former World No. 1, disappointed but determined to carry on.

“My hip felt good, I played some long matches, but I’m not happy with tonight at all,” said Murray during his virtual press conference. Although Murray was sharp a day earlier in taking out fifth seed Alexander Zverev in three sets, he never seemed to find his rhythm against Raonic. “I’m disappointed in myself.”

After Raonic broke Murray in the first game after play resumed, he never trailed and won in one hour and 29 minutes. Taking advantage of the quick courts at the National Tennis Center, Raonic fired 10 aces and won 88 percent of his first-serve points against Murray. He’s won all 27 of his services without fail and saved all five break points he has encountered.

“I think I’m happy with my performances,” Raonic told Tennis TourTalk. “I’ve done the work, I’ve put in the effort. I’m happy the pieces are coming together.”

Next, Raonic faces No. 32 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who advanced with a 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of 84th-ranked qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary that lasted just 63 minutes. Krajinovic has dropped just 15 games in his three matches this week and it’s his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal since the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters.

Women’s draw now favors Osaka

• No. 12 Anett Kontaveit has gone 7-1 since the WTA resumed tournament play earlier this month. With the exception of losing the Palermo final to Fiona Ferro, she’s beaten all comers. This week, she’s won each of her three matches in straight sets and her latest win, against No. 48 Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic, was a quality win in which she was successful in garnering 82 percent of her first-serve point opportunities. Kontaveit added seven aces to her arsenal and broke Bouzkova, who a round earlier upset No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova, four times in six attempts. Kontaveit outpointed Bouzkova 65-48.

“I’m feeling really good on court and I feel confident and my game has improved,” said Kontaveit, who turns 25 in December. “I’m really excited about the upcoming matches. I’m definitely happy about it.

“I do feel like I’m more calm on the court. … I’m trusting myself more. I feel more comfortable and confident on the court.”

Asked by Tennis TourTalk why she won against a very good opponent, Kontaveit said, “I was playing my game, I think I was a little more aggressive and tried to take initiatives. I think I served really, really well today, which helped me a lot.” 

Kontaveit said she’s pleased with the direction of her game with the start of the US Open less than a week away. “I’m pleased with the way I’m playing and hopefully another few more tough matches ahead,” she said. “It’s easier to motivate yourself for the Slams and be mentally fresh. There’s so much on the line and they’re such big tournaments.”

• Next, Kontaveit will oppose fourth seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over 16th seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine. Osaka hit eight aces, won 83 percent of her first-serve points and saved all five break points she faced. The two-time Grand Slam champion dropped just four games overall and outpointed her opponent 61-45. She’s into her second quarterfinal of the season and first since Brisbane in January.

“I don’t have expectations of myself right now because I haven’t played in a really long time,” said Osaka during her virtual press conference. “I expect myself to behave a certain way, which is positively. I know that I’ve been training really hard, so I really hope to play well here. I feel like I’m not playing the way I want to but I’m building up to it.”

• No. 14 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium hadn’t faced Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, who slayed top seed Karolina Pliskova in the first round, since her ITF days four years ago during a Moscow $25K event. But even going back further to juniors, the Belgian No. 1 had never lost to the young Russian.

The 22nd-ranked Mertens took steady control early and rode it to a 6-2, 6-3 win over the 41st-ranked Kudermetova. Mertens won most of the big points and the close games and she broke her opponent four times while not being broken. Since returning from the five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mertens is 7-2 while competing in her third tournament.

• Next, Mertens will meet 83rd-ranked American qualifier Jessica Pegula, who upset No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, in two hours and six minutes. Pegula, the 2019 Citi Open champion, has strung together five straight wins (two in qualifying and three in the main draw) and in consecutive days, she’s defeated Lexington champion Jennifer Brady, 28th-ranked Amanda Anisimova and now World No. 11 Sabalenka, the highest-ranked player that Pegula has beaten this year. She’s been very successful in three-set matches, winning five of seven. Pegula converted five of 11 break points and outpointed Doha champion Sabalenka 101-92.

“I feel like I’m playing really well,” Pegula said earlier this week. “I think the courts are playing faster this year, I think it favors my game. … I like to play aggressive. … I’m figuring out ways to win matches.

Pegula told Tennis TourTalk she believes she’s a better player than she was a year ago when she won the Citi Open. “I improved a lot over the quarantine break. I worked a lot on my serve and I think I’m moving pretty well and playing good defense. My movement and my serve have definitely improved a lot in the last year.”

Now into her biggest quarterfinal of her career, Pegula will face the other half of the top seeds in the doubles draw in Mertens.

• No 8 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain grabbed her second consecutive straight-set win when she beat 270th-ranked Russian qualifier Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-2 in minutes. In a battle for former Top Five players, the 15th-ranked Konta’s serve was in danger only twice and faced no breaks on her serve while breaking Zvonareva three times. The three-time Grand Slam semifinalist outpointed her opponent 63-46 in winning for the second time in two days. It was Konta’s third match back since the WTA relaunched tour-level play earlier this month.

“I think I am pleased with obviously the level I’m playing,” said Konta in describing her performance the past two days. “It doesn’t guarantee that every day it’s just going to go smoothly. I feel like I’m giving myself the best chance of when it could and will get more difficult, that I’m in a place where I can find a way to compete well and to find solutions to the problems that whichever opponent that I’m playing will be throwing my way. 

“I think I just was able to find those answers for those problems in the last two matches, and maybe my opponents couldn’t find any more kind of problems to throw my way, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes you do; sometimes you don’t.”

The loss broke a four-match winning streak for Zvonareva, 31, who strung together two qualifying draw wins to reach the main draw and beat Magda Linette and Laura Siegemund in the run up to facing Konta.

After she beat Siegemund on Monday, Zvonareva, 31, sat down virtually with a small group of reporters and spoke about her return. “I think I’m trying to play and go day by day. With every match I’m improving and there’s room to improve,” she said. “The decision making is coming back; I’m making my decisions much quicker. I’m seeing the court better, I know where I want to go and do with the ball, and I think my instincts are coming back.”

• Next, Konta will face No. 13 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who upset No. 3 seed Serena Williams, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in a two hour and 17-minute slugfest that was the final match on court and didn’t end until 11:15 p.m. local time. Williams was two points from the match in the second set but couldn’t pull out the victory. Instead, Sakkari broke and held, then took the second set to a tie-break which she won. Finally, she coasted in the final set after going ahead 5-0.

Sakkari hit seven aces and won 75 percent of her first serves and finished with 27 winners. However, it was the pressure she put on Williams throughout the match that was a difference. Williams faced 19 break points and was broken five times by Sakkari, and committed 58 unforced errors. Of the 221 points that were played, Sakkari outpointed Williams 113-108 to advance. Konta will take a 2-1 series edge into their quarterfinal.

“It feels pretty good [to beat Serena]. She’s been a role model to me growing up. It’s very nice,” said Sakkari during her virtual press conference. “First set and a half I couldn’t hit my shots. I knew it was going to be ugly. I’m proud of myself that I came through because of my mentality and my fight.”

Williams said during her virtual press conference, Williams said she should have won. “It was tough. There was no excuse. It was hard, but I had so many opportunities to win, and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. There is really no excuses, to be honest.”

• No. 59 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus won her third straight match in New York with a 6-4, 7-5 triumph over No. 60 Alizé Cornet from France in two hours. While just six points separated the two tour veterans, the difference maker for Azarenka appeared to her ability to win big points on Cornet’s serve. She broke the Frenchwoman five times in eight tries to advance to the quarterfinal round. The win improved Azarenka’s lifetime head-to-head against Cornet to 7-0.

“The week still keeps going. I don’t over analyze anything while I’m still in the play,” said Azarenka, who improved to 3-2 for the year and played doubles this week with Sofia Kenin. (They lost in the second round Tuesday to Russians Anna Blinkova and Veronika Kudermetova, 6-1, 4-6, 10-8.) “I think I take it day by day. I’ve always been this way. Now more than ever I try to take it one moment at a time.”

• Next, Azarenka will face No. 39 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who took out 90th-ranked American Christina McHale, 6-3, 6-0, in 75 minutes. Jabeur was solid on both her serve and return, winning 73 percent of her service points and 52 percent on her return. She outpointed McHale 71-47. Since dropping the first set of the tournament, Jabeur has won six consecutive sets.

“I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the court,” Jabeur said during her virtual press conference. She didn’t finish her second-round match on Monday evening against Madison Keys until after 10 p.m. and had a quick turn-around for Tuesday’s match with McHale. “Christina played good, but I had the game to win.”

Then, Jabeur told Tennis TourTalk“I’m glad I am continuing to play better and better with each match. That was the goal. I’m know what I am able to do during my matches. I can beat tough players. … I’m happy I’m stronger, especially mentally and physically on the court.”

Quarterfinals set in doubles draws

• The men’s draw is wide open with both of the top seeds out of the tournament. After No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, were eliminated on the first day, on Tuesday, No. 2 seeds Lukas Kubot from Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil lost in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6 (4), to American pair Steve Johnson and Austin Krajicek. Also advancing was No. 6 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies of Germany, who beat Juergen Melzer of Austria and Edouard Roger-Vaseline from France, 3-6, 6-4, 10-4.

• In the women’s draw, the top three seeded teams all advanced to the quarterfinals. No. 1 seeds Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka defeated Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States, 6-1, 6-2. Also, No. 2 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Xu Yifan of China beat American pair Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, 3-6, 6-3, 10-6, to reach their fifth quarterfinal of the season. They have won one title since forming as a team at the start of the year. No. 3 seeds Keveta Pesche of Czech Republic and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands advanced with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova and Vera Zvonareva.

Around the Western & Southern Open

• Despite 90º Fahrenheit temperatures throughout much of day, a heavy rain came down quickly – and sideways – that forced the suspension of play at 6:18 p.m. with four matches on court – two men’s singles and two women’s doubles – and two more matches to be started. Play resumed at 7:45 p.m. The final match to take the court – Serena Williams versus Maria Sakkari – didn’t end until 11:15 p.m.

• Naomi Osaka, no stranger to playing at the site of the US Open, was asked by Tennis TourTalk if playing on the same courts for this week’s Western & Southern Open is a good preparation for next week’s US Open: “I’m not even thinking of this as a warmup tournament. I’m thinking of this tournament as one I want to win. Playing matches on these courts is really good for me. It’s a bit weird, but I’m glad they are playing two tournaments here.”

• Maria Sakkari, who upset her idol, Serena Williams, to reach today’s quarterfinals, was asked by Tennis TourTalk if winning the second set tie-break was the difference between winning and losing: “I think the key point was, of course, winning the second set, but then serving the way I did the first game of the thirds set was like a turning point for me. It gave me a lot of confidence. Of course, coming back in the tie-break from 4-1 down [helped].”