Serena’s Fighting Spirit Lives On For Another Round

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty-three-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams won her 100th career match on Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the US Open quarterfinals Monday afternoon.

The No. 3 seed Williams from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., defeated 15th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, to keep her quest alive for an elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie Margaret Court’s long-standing record.

Sakkari saved one match point with a forehand winner, but Williams converted on her next try to complete her comeback from 0- 2 down in the final set.

After two hours and 28 minutes, Williams proved she was battled tested. She won a great match and a great battle with Sakkari, who had beaten Williams on the same court in the Western & Southern Open last month. Now, Williams is into her 12th straight US Open quarterfinal round and 53rd Grand Slam quarterfinal overall.

“I think what’s most pleasing just competing,” said Williams during her post-match virtual interview. “I always compete, but competing and having a good attitude I think is what I’m most satisfied about.”

Williams was asked if she’s playing differently because there is no crowd to carry her through difficult moments.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m super different without a crowd, but … I’m super passionate. This is my job. This is what I wake up to do. This is what I train to do 365 days of the year,” she said.

“Obviously I miss the crowd, because usually I’m training and I’m playing for the crowd. But now we have a virtual crowd. You know, there is a lot of people that’s supporting. Whether it’s me or my opponent, they are still here to watch a really good match.

“Obviously I miss the crowd, because usually I’m training and I’m playing for the crowd. But now we have a virtual crowd. You know, there is a lot of people that’s supporting. Whether it’s me or my opponent, they are still here to watch a really good match.

Pironkova continues to amaze

Williams will face Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, who continued her surprising run with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over No. 56 Alizé Cornet of France.

Pironkova, one of nine moms entered in the singles draw, is back after taking three years off – using a special ranking – and has reached the quarterfinals in her first tournament. She hit 46 winners and broke Cornet’s serve eight times during the two hour and 49-minute battle on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Cornet was also handcuffed by nine double faults and 34 unforced errors. Pironkova aggressively controlled play at the net by winning 21 of 28 scoring opportunities. She outpointed Cornet 111-101.

Saturday, after her third-round win over 18th seed Donna Vekic, Pironkova said at one time she had doubts about returning to the WTA Tour. “There was a time maybe for one-and-a-half, two years after I became a mom where I didn’t really picture coming back to the tour at all,” she said. “I was, you know, happy with the moment, just wanted to live through everything, through this new exciting times in my life.

“But then I started thinking about tennis more and more. Also having this opportunity of the special ranking gives you more motivation, as well, because you’re not starting from scratch, as we can see. My first tournament is actually main draw in US Open. That is a huge opportunity.

“At one point I was like, I do not want to miss that opportunity, I’m going to start training, I’m going to do everything I can, and it’s going to be different this time because, first and before all, I kind of enjoy it because tennis is before all a game. It’s interesting, exciting, and super cool game that you can have a lot of fun playing. That is what I’m trying to do.”

Mertens shocks No. 2 seed Kenin

No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium booked her ticket to her second straight Us Open quarterfinal by shocking No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin from the United States, 6-3, 6-3, in only 74 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday evening.

Mertens hit 19 winners and committed just seven unforced errors while the risk-taking Kenin finished with 23 winners but committed 26 unforced errors. Mertens was broken just once while she converted four of nine break points against Kenin.

Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion, had won her last 10 straight major main draw matches going back to Melbourne, but Mertens was up to the challenge and sealed the victory with her seventh ace.

Up next for Mertens is a quarterfinal matchup  with two-time US Open runner-up and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Azarenka extends winning streak to nine

The unseeded Azarenka, ranked 27th, rallied for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over 20th seed Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic in two hours and 29 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium to reach her first US Open quarterfinal since 2015. Azarenka overcame 28 unforced errors with 21 winners and she caused the 26th-ranked Muchova to commit 45 unforced errors. Azarenka outpointed her opponent 105-89.

”It was a crazy match,” said Azarenka during her on-court interview following her win. “She played unbelievably, getting to balls and bringing everything back. I would try coming to the net and bring passing shots where I couldn’t do anything. It was such a great match and of such high quality. I really had to dig in and bring more aggression because she was really feeling the ball well.

“It was really tough, but also so much fun. I hope people had fun watching because I enjoyed playing it tonight.”

De Minaur reaches first major quarterfinal

Appearing in his 12th Grand Slam, Australia’s Alex de Minaur has finally cracked the glass ceiling and reached his first major quarterfinal. It happened Monday afternoon on Louis Armstrong Stadium after the 21st seed rallied from 2-6 down in a first-set tie-break and went on to beat unseeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2.

The victory allowed the Sydney native de Minaur to extend his career head-to-head against the 94th-ranked Pospisil to 3-0.

“The first set was crucial, with some things going his way and then my way,” said the 28th-ranked de Minaur following his two hour and 17-minute victory. “I went 2-6 down, but didn’t think I played a bad tie-break and tried to stay calm. I’m just so happy with the way I played to beat Vasek. He is very tricky and aggressive. I tried to stay calm and kept running.”

Thiem dominates Auger-Aliassime

Next, de Minaur will play second seed Dominic Thiem, who knocked out No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada with a fourth-round 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1 victory, winning 12 of the final 14 games on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The World No. 3 from Austria is into his second US Open quarterfinal and will take an 18-6 win-loss record in the American Slam into his match against de Minaur on Wednesday.

“I was really nervous before the match,” said Thiem during his on-court interview after the match. “I knew that I was going to play against an amazing opponent.

“The second and third sets were 100 percent the best sets so far in this overseas trip. I’m starting to find that mixture that I had in Australia, offense and defense, and putting a lot of returns in play. I’ll try to bring that form with me to the next round.”

Thiem realizes that with World No.1 and top seed Novak Djokovic no longer in the draw, Thiem at age 27, is among the most seasoned players remaining.

“I’m probably one of the oldest players in the field, which is a bit surreal to me,”Thiem said in looking to his next opponent, de Minaur, whom he owns a 2-0 lifetime record against.“He’s a bit like Felix, absolute superstar [and] up-and-coming. It doesn’t matter if the Big Three are here or not. Everybody wants their hands on the trophy.”

Rublev gains revenge on Berrettini

Andrey Rublev of Russia and Italy’s Matteo Berrettini have the potential to become one of the new and great rivalries in men’s tennis. Each time they meet it’s like a heavyweight title fight with lots of forehand ball crushing coming from both of these Top 20 players.

On Monday evening in Louis Armstrong Stadium, a year after Berrettini beat Rublev in straight sets in the fourth round at the US Open, the 10th-seeded Russian returned the favor. Rublev won this year’s tussle over the sixth seed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, to reach his second quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows.

“It was really tough, especially against Matteo. He’s a Top 10 player,” said Rublev during his on-court interview following his two hour and 42-minute victory.“I knew it was going to be a tough battle and I’m really happy I won.”

Rublev hit 34 winners and he caused Berrettini to commit 44 unforced errors. Rublev outpointed Berrettini 123-104.

“Last year I remember he started to play real well, he started to play aggressively and I was not ready to accept that. I started to complain early. I was thinking, ‘How was it possible that he’s playing so good? I cannot play the same way.’ When I woke up I was already losing two sets to zero and he was already so confident,”Rublev recalled. “Today, he started also so good. He was aggressive, he was dictating. I think I accepted this a little earlier and that’s why after the first set I was able to come back and start to play better.”

Medvedev sets up all Russian quarterfinal

Rublev’s next opponent is none other than fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev. The third seed needed just one hour and 38 minutes to reach the quarterfinals for the second straight year. He beat the last American standing in the men’s draw, No. 82 Frances Tiafoe, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0.

Medvedev dominated Tiafoe by winning the last eight games of the match, including 17 of the final 20 points in the round of 16 contest that opened Monday’s evening session on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I was lucky enough to get the early break, relax a little bit and then I started playing amazing tennis after that,” said Medvedev, who is emerging as a possible favorite, in an on-court interview after his victory. “I’m playing better with every match and I hope this can continue. I’m pleased with the fact that I’ve won all of these sets and didn’t have to stay long on court. That’s always good when you’re playing a Grand Slam.”

The 24-year-old World No. 5 has strung together four consecutive straight-set victories, against Federico Delbonis, Chris O’Connell, J.J. Wolf and Tiafoe. He’s been broke just three times in 51 service games and has converted 23 of 46 break points through the entire tournament. He’s won 10 of his last 11 US Open matches over the past two New York fortnights.

Medvedev said he looks forward to his upcoming encounter with Rublev, with whom he is 2-0 in career head-to-head.

“He’s playing amazing this year and it’s really cool that we managed to be in the quarterfinals together. Of course, it would be better if we were playing a final,”said Medvedev.“On the court, there are no friends and he knows that also. We’re going to have a good match.”

Around the US Open

• In women’s doubles, No. 3 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Xu Yifan from China reached the semifinals after defeating Lexington champions Hayley Carter of the U.S. and Luisa Stefani of Brazil, 6-2, 6-3. They will face unseeded Americans Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend, who beat the Canadian-American team of Gaby Dabrowski and Alison Riske, 6-4, 6-2.

• In men’s doubles, Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil beat British duo Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, 6-2, 7-6 (4), to reach the semifinals. They will meet Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau from Romania, who defeated Rohan Bopanna of India and Denis Shapovalov from Canada, 7-5, 7-5.

By the numbers

With Serena Williams, Tsvetana Pironkova and Victoria Azarenka all winning Monday, it marks the first time in Grand Slam history that three mothers have reached the quarterfinal round.

What they’re saying

During his virtual press conference Monday evening, second seed Dominic Thiem was asked about the absence of “The Big Three” following the disqualification of top seed Novak Djokovic. (Previously, Roger Federer was declared out of the US Open due to season-ending knee surgery and Rafael Nadal opted not to defending his title citing international travel concerns due to COVID-19.)

“There is a difference than none of these three are left in the draw,”said Thiem. “That’s the only difference.

“But for me personally, it never mattered. I just always tried to focus on my next match. My focus or my concentration, it’s the same. It doesn’t alter if I play of the big three members or if I play somebody else.

“Well, I mean, what happened [Djokovic’s default] happened. Nobody of the other players has any or had any influence of that. We just need to focus and focus on ourselves.

“Of course, it’s probably a little bit of a bigger chance for all of us to win the first slam, but basically the things didn’t change that much, at least for myself.”

Monday’s results

Tuesday’s order of play