Van de Zandschulp Extends Breakthrough US Open Run

Botic van de Zandschulp (photo: Brad Penner/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 117 Botic van de Zandschulp must have felt like the king of the world after stunning No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman during their fourth-round US Open match inside Louis Armstrong Stadium Sunday afternoon.

The 25-year-old pride of Wageningen, Netherlands, who had never been beyond the second round at a major before the New York fortnight began last week – and endured three rounds of qualifying to find his place in the main draw – now finds himself squarely into the quarterfinal round against No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev. He fired 15 aces and 55 winners to beat Schwartzman, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1, in four hours and 20 minutes to become just the third qualifier to reach the US Open quarterfinals.

Pretty good for someone with the funny and often-mispronounced last name, who was playing in his first ATP Tour-level event since reaching the second round at Wimbledon two months ago. By winning, he kept the 14th-ranked Schwartzman from reaching his third US Open quarterfinal.

“The atmosphere was great,” van de Zandschulp said during his on-court interview. “I couldn’t let you guys down. The first for me in America and it has been great. I think before the tournament, nobody expected me to reach the quarterfinals here and I hope they are proud in the Netherlands.”

Van de Zandschulp, who had never been to the United States before arriving in New York for this year’s US Open, quickly established himself by taking out World No. 11 Casper Ruud of Norway in the second round. His other main draw wins have come against Carlos Taberner of Spain and Facundo Bagnis of Argentina.

After failing to capitalize on two match points in the fourth set against Schwartzman, van de Zandschulp recovered nicely in the final set to overtake the Argentine, who hit 30 winners but committed 51 unforced errors. Van de Zandschulp can be forgiven for racking up 72 unforced errors of his own. He outpointed Schwartzman 165-147.

During his on-court interview, the calm and level-headed van de Zandschulp added: “I played so many matches here, some of them I was on the brink of defeat, and for the first time in the tournament I have won the first set. The first two I almost ended up losing the match, but I am glad I won in the end.”

This summer, van de Zandschulp has been a fixture on the ATP Challenger Tour, where he reached the title match in Amersfoort, Netherlands and advanced to three semifinals: in Tampere, Finland; Liberec, Czech Republic; and Meerbusch, Germany. His overall win-loss record in all competitions is a healthy 42-18.

Now, van de Zandschulp is the first Dutch Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Sjeng Schalken at the 2003 US Open and 2004 Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, as van de Zandschulp was locked in battle with Schwartzman, over on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev was having a much easier go of it against No. 24 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain, whom he defeated 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. The 25-year-old Russian has not dropped a set in New York. His one hour and 43-minute victory over Evans, in which he hit 13 aces and 24 winners, improved his win-loss record since Wimbledon to 15-2.

“Today, I liked my serve better,” Medvedev said during a playful on-court interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver. “But there was one forehand return that for me was the best shot of the match. So, if we take one shot, it has to be this one, but it we take the whole match, it has to be the serve.”

Coming-of-age party continues for Alcaraz

As Sunday afternoon turned into evening, 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz garnered his second straight five-set victory of the tournament, this time ending the run of 141st-ranked German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0, in three hours and 32 minutes on the Grandstand court. It was the 33rd five-set match at this year’s US Open.

Two days after stunning No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and becoming the youngest in US Open history to beat at Top Three player –playing on “the best court in the world,” as he told New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey – the 55th-ranked Alcaraz became the youngest US Open men’s quarterfinalist in the Open Era (since 1968) and youngest since Brazilian Thomaz Koch in 1963 after beating the 32-year-old Gojowczyk. He’s also the youngest Grand Slam men’s singles quarterfinalist since Michael Chang, at age 18, in 1990.

Alcaraz hit 35 winners to 45 unforced errors, won 13 of 26 break-point opportunities and took advantage of Gojowczyk’s 84 unforced errors and lack of physical mobility by the end of the match. He outpointed his opponent 161-130.

“I’m super excited to be in my first second week in the Grand Slam, so it’s amazing for me,” Alcaraz said during his post-match press conference. “It’s a dream come true. It’s really tough to play these kind of matches, to play fifth sets. … I hope to play more second weeks, to play more quarterfinals of Grand Slams. I didn’t expect to play quarterfinals here. So I think it’s a really good performance from me in these matches.”

Next, Alcaraz will take on No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round. The 21-year-old Canadian fought off the challenge of No. 50 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-4, to become the youngest male to reach back-to-back major quarterfinals since Juan Martín del Potro at age 20 in 2008.

“It was a tough start from me, a lot of nerves,” Auger-Aliassime said after his victory. “After I tried to recover I felt like I could have been able to break back in the first set but it is what it is, you’ve got to accept it.

“I played a great second set. That third set was almost a coin toss. I did feel like I had what it took to win that set and I just had to stay strong on my serve in the end. I’m really happy to be through.”

A trust in her game lifts Fernandez to another major upset win

One round after she toppled four-time Grand Slam champion and defending US Open titlist Naomi Osaka, 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada provided a packed Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd with another huge upset – and it happened a day before she celebrates her 19th birthday.

Fernandez earned herself an early birthday gift as she ousted three-time Grand Slam champion and this year’s 16th seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, coming back from a set down to pull out a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 triumph in two hours and 15 minutes. Fernandez became just the fourth Canadian woman to reach the US Open quarterfinal round. It’s also the first time that she has reached the final eight in a major.

“I have been working hard every day since the day I started playing tennis and since the day I set my mind to being a professional,” Fernandez said during her post-match press conference. “I expected that one day my tennis game is going to come through and that I’m going to be on the big stage in front of a big crowd playing against big players and also getting the wins.”

In this high-intensity battle between two left-handers, there was no shortage of dramatic moments, as witnessed by the fearless Fernandez willing herself through a tough second-set tie break to pull even. Then, she pushed ahead in the final set and had all the right stuff to pull off her fourth win of the New York fortnight and second straight against a major champion.

Both Kerber and Fernandez overcame 2-4 deficits in the first two sets. Then, in the decider, Fernandez struck an ace to consolidate a break for a 4-2 advantage and after breaking Kerber a second time, saved two break points as she served out the victory at 5-2. Fernandez won the last five games of the match to advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal round.

“I was honestly tired in the third set, but with that thought, I was telling myself, like, ‘if I’m tired, she must be exhausted,'” Fernandez said. “Just try to put one more ball back in as much as possible. Like I said, trust my game that everything is going to work out.”

Fernandez hit 45 winners to 34 unforced errors, saved five of nine break points and broke Kerber five times. The German finished with 28 winners and made 22 unforced errors. Fernandez outpointed Kerber 102-91.

“I gave everything I had today,” Kerber said in press. “She played, I think [an] unbelievable match, especially in the third set, also in the second.

“Yeah, I think she played also one of her best matches in her career, and she had nothing to lose. She went out there, she played her tennis. She really is going for her winners, and, yeah, I think at the end it was just two, there points which decided the match. She took it in her hands.”

Next, Fernandez will face No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who was solid in her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 12 seed Simona Halep. It was her first victory over the Romanian in a major. The Olympic bronze medalist has yet to drop a set during her four US Open wins, which followed her recent title victory at the Chicago Women’s Open.

“I think the improvements started in Chicago,” Svitolina said of her recent successes during her post-match press conference. “Every match I was playing better and better, trying to build on physically, mentally as well. I think I was more stronger, playing good tennis. I was moving better.

“I knew that I had to be really quick with my mind just to go [from winning Chicago] straight into Grand Slam, try to bring the same intensity, same tennis. In the end I was playing quite good my first round, then second round, and [in the third round] was even better I would say with my tennis.”

Also, reaching the quarterfinal round was Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the highest-remaining seed in the women’s draw. The hard-hitting No. 2 seed beat her longtime doubles partner, No. 15 Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-4, 6-1, in back of 22 winners and four breaks of the Belgian’s serve.

“I’m just really happy to be in the quarterfinals here because I really like playing at the US Open, especially with the crowd and the atmosphere is really enjoyable here,” Sabalenka said in press after her fourth-round win.

Next, Sabalenka will next face No. 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, who beat No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain 6-3, 7-6 (4) after one hour and 53 minutes. The two Top 10 players didn’t begin their match until 11:17 p.m. and finished until after 1 a.m. Monday.

Sunday’s US Open results 

Monday’s US Open order of play

By the numbers

Through Carlos Alcaraz‘s first 110 professional matches, he’s 97-33 overall (.746 winning percentage), with one ATP Tour title, four Challenger titles, two other ATP semifinals and now a Grand Slam quarterfinal – all before turning 19-years-old.

“Quotable …”

“Having fun on the court, I think that’s the key to anybody’s success, especially mind, that if I’m not happy or I’m putting too much press on myself, I start making mistakes and I’m not enjoying myself. But these past few weeks I have been enjoying myself a lot on the tennis court, and that’s been a mindset of mine from the very beginning that not only my dad but also my mom has been telling me to do so that I can enjoy this life.

“I chose this profession and I want to enjoy it as much as possible and have fun, is just one of the biggest keys that I have.”

Leylah Fernandez of Canada, on her mindset as an 18-year-old tennis professional.