Osaka falls to Bencic while Vekic, Mertens win
NEW YORK: Rafael Nadal ramped up his quest for a fourth US Open title Monday with an impressive win over 2014 champion Marin Cilic to advance to the quarter-finals while Alexander Zverev slumped to a four-set defeat.
Second seed Nadal — the winner at Flushing Meadows in 2010, 2013 and 2017 — produced some electrifying moments of brilliance to end the challenge of Croatian 22nd seed Cilic 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
After barely breaking a sweat in reaching the last 16, a run that included a second-round walkover, Nadal stared down his stiffest test so far to surge into a quarter-final meeting with Argentine 20th seed Diego Schwartzman.
“It’s a huge honor playing in front of all of you and playing in front of Tiger Woods is a very special thing. I always say I don’t have big idols but one idol is him and I always try to follow him.”
Nadal’s path to the final sees him take on Schwartzman next after the 5ft 7in (1.70m) Argentine chopped down sixth seed Zverev.
“He is playing amazing, nothing new, he’s one of the players with best talent on tour,” the 18-time Grand Slam champion said of his upcoming opponent.
“It will be a big challenge. I have to play my best. I’m happy for him. He’s a close friend and I hope to play a great match.”
Zverev rolled through the opening set against Schwartzman under the roof on Ashe during a rainy afternoon session, but he lost his way to go down 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
The German was enjoying his deepest run in New York but committed 17 double faults and 65 unforced errors and received a point penalty for swearing as Schwartzman advanced to a second US Open quarter-final in three years.
“Generally my season so far has not been the best,” said Zverev, who has reached just two quarter-finals in 18 Grand Slam appearances.
Zverev said he was hindered a “very swollen” back and right hip following a fall in his previous match.
“I had a lot of chances which I didn’t use early in the match. He kind of ran away with it.”
Zverev lost his serve three times during the second set but appeared to have steadied himself when he moved a break ahead at 3-2 in the third, only for Schwartzman to wrest the momentum back in his favor after a lengthy sixth game.
Matteo Berrettini became just the second Italian man to progress to the US Open quarter-finals, 42 years after Corrado Barazzutti’s run to the last four in New York.
Berrettini, the 24th seed, eased to a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) win over Russia’s 43rd-ranked Andrey Rublev to reach the last eight at a Grand Slam for the first time.
Meanwhile, top-ranked defending champion Naomi Osaka was ousted from the US Open on Monday by Belinda Bencic while Croatian Donna Vekic erased a match point to join the Swiss 13th seed in a quarter-final matchup.
Bencic’s 7-5, 6-4 triumph, her WTA-best sixth over a top-five foe this year, ensured 21-year-old Japanese star Osaka will fall from atop the rankings next week and won’t become the first repeat US Open winner since Serena Williams in 2014.
“The challenge cannot be bigger against Naomi,” Bencic said. “I had to be at the top of my game and I’m really pleased how well I handled my nerves at the end.”
Bencic, 22, matched her deepest career Grand Slam run from the 2014 US Open with her third victory of the year over Osaka, having also won at Indian Wells and Madrid.
“She played pretty clean. She had a specific plan she wanted to execute,” Osaka said. “I guess just being aggressive.”
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion, will move atop the rankings next Monday after the loss by Osaka, who defends her Australian Open title in January.
Vekic, the 23rd seed, saved a match point in the second set and made her first Slam quarter-final by rallying past German 26th seed Julia Goerges 6-7 (5/7), 7-5, 6-3.
“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said. “She was serving for the match. She had match point. I just kept fighting and believing I could win. It feels pretty amazing.”
Belgian 25th seed Elise Mertens cruised past 141st-ranked US wildcard Kristie Ahn 6-1, 6-1 in 67 minutes to book a quarter-final berth against 19-year-old Canadian 15th seed Bianca Andreescu.
“I just tried to play my best game,” said Mertens, who has dropped only 16 games in four matches. – AFP