Nadal, Del Potro into US Open last-eight

Serena, Stephens reach US Open quarter-finals

NEW YORK: Sloane Stephens of the US returns the ball to Belgium’s Elise Mertens during their women’s singles tennis match on Day 7 of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sunday in New York City. — AFP

NEW YORK: Defending champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday reached the US Open quarter-finals for the eighth time where he will face Dominic Thiem, one of only three men to defeat him in 2018. World number one Nadal saw off a battling Nikoloz Basilashvili, the first Georgian in a fourth round in New York, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-4.

“It’s a big victory for me,” said the 32-year-old Nadal, the champion in 2010, 2013 and 2017. “He was hitting the ball very strong and when I thought I was in control of the points, he always came back with strong shots.” It was world number 37 Basilashvili’s strength, however, which proved his undoing. His 56 winners were erased by 59 unforced errors, three times as many as Nadal.

Elsewhere, Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, beat Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 to make the last-eight for a third successive year. The third seeded Argentine will next face John Isner, the last American man standing, who defeated Milos Raonic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, taking his tournament aces total past the 100-mark.

Thiem, who beat Nadal on clay in Madrid in the run-up to Paris, booked his place in the quarter-finals for the first time with a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) win over 2017 runner-up Kevin Anderson. The ninth-seeded Austrian’s three other appearances in the last-eight of a Slam were all on Paris clay in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Nadal leads their head-to-head 7-3 with all of their matches coming on clay courts, including in the final of Roland Garros in June when he captured an 11th French Open. “Thiem is a great opponent, he has the big serve and he had a big win today against Kevin,” said Nadal who has made the last-eight of every Slam in the same year for the first time since 2011. Thiem has unfinished business at the US Open. Last year, he had two match points against del Potro in the fourth round but fell in five sets.

Thiem’s progress to the last-eight comes despite choosing to play European clay court events after Wimbledon before then losing his only summer hard court outing in Cincinnati to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

He is the first Austrian in the last-eight at the US Open since Thomas Muster in 1996. “Against Rafa, I’ve had three very nice experiences and seven horrible experiences,” said Thiem who turns 25 today. “On clay, it’s one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy. I hope that it’s a little bit more comfortable on hard court, but I’m not sure.”

Third-seeded del Potro made the last-eight for the sixth time against Croatian 20th seed Coric who was playing in his maiden last 16 of a Slam. Coric, 21, saw his challenge undone by a right thigh injury which needed two visits by the trainer as well as general unhappiness with the humidity of the Arther Ashe court.

Meanwhile, six-time champion Serena Williams survived a spirited challenge from unseeded Kaia Kanepi to triumph 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday and reach the quarter-finals of the US Open. The 23-time Grand Slam champion looked set to romp home when she seized the first set from Kanepi in just 18 minutes.

But the hard-hitting Estonian, who took out world number one Simona Halep in the first round, settled down in the second set, shaking off the partisan crowd in a jammed Arthur Ashe Stadium to push Williams the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t an easy match at all,” said Williams, who let out what she called a “Serena scream” after ripping a backhand cross court to hold serve in the opening game of the third set.

“Winning a big game and a very important game and a really tight game, I think it was just a relief,” said Williams, who took control with a break in the next game and maintained that advantage until she fired a forehand winner on her first match point.

Williams booked a quarter-final date with Karolina Pliskova, the eighth-seeded Czech who beat Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-4. Pliskova defeated Williams in the semi-finals in New York in 2016.

Defending champion Sloane Stephens, the third seed, eased past Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-3 to book a quarter-final rematch with Latvian Anastasija Sevastova. Sevastova toppled seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 1-6, 6-0, leaving just two of the top 10 women’s seeds remaining. Stephens, runner-up to Halep at the French Open, was looking forward to taking on Sevastova again in her bid to push ahead in her title defense.

“Obviously it won’t be easy,” she said. “Quarter-finals of a Grand Slam is always really tough. A big opportunity for both of us. Being defending champion, being able to get to the quarter-finals again, is incredible. I’m just going to try to keep building on that and keep going.”

Sevastova, in the quarters for a third straight year, is hoping to turn the tables on Stephens, who is trying to become the first woman to win back-to-back US Open titles since Williams won three straight in 2012, 2013 and 2014. – AFP


This article was published on 03/09/2018