After eliminating Naomi Osaka in round 3, Canada’s 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez came back from a set down for a second time at the US Open to shock a former US Open champion, Angelique Kerber, while Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina cruised into the quarter-finals and Barbora Krejcikova got on Garbiñe Muguruza’s nerves.
I did have to pinch myself a little bit to see that it actually happened, but I knew that my tennis, my level of tennis is there. It’s just a moment of time, opportunity, and I’m glad that I was able to get this opportunity now and that I was able to showcase what I can do in front of these players. Even if I would have lost, I would have been proud of myself with the way that I played, the way that I fought. Leylah Fernandez
Fearless Fernandez caused fellow-left-hander Kerber to unravel in the deciding set, storming through with a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 win over the 16th seeded German.
In an early celebration of her 19th birthday on Monday, Fernandez showed that her upset of Osaka, the World No 3, was no mere flash in the pan.
Fernandez went out for a dinner with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the 1994 US Open champion, on Thursday night ahead of the Osaka match, and said she received some useful advice.
“I was so grateful to have that chance,” she said after her win. “She gave me a few pointers going into the Naomi match. She definitely helped and gave me a lot of confidence.”
Playing on Louis Armstrong Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the young Canadian had the crowd hopping once again.
“Honestly, the crowd has been amazing, so thanks to them I was able to win,” said Fernandez, who next faces 5th-seeded Svitolina. “I was just trusting my game.
“She’s an incredible fighter, incredible player. Just putting one more ball back in, fighting, and just having fun on the court.”
An inconsistent opener went to Kerber after Fernandez, ranked 73, let a 4-2 lead slip and the German took the last 4 games of the set.
The 2016 champion extended her lead into the second, winning 7 of the next 8 games, but Fernandez found her footing and managed to level proceedings at 4-4, and then pushed things into the tiebreak.
The daughter of an Ecuadorian father and Canadian mother of Filipino heritage, Fernandez may be diminutive in stature but she packs a punch and is exuberant in her play, fist-pumping and screaming with each winner throughout the tight second set.
In the breaker, Fernandez’ rocketing groundstrokes swept her to a quick 5-1 lead and, despite letting the next 3 points slip away, another powerful return winner gave the teenager 2 more set points at 6-4.
A Kerber forehand winner saved the first but, on the second, Fernandez forced an error with a deft drop-shot, and the match was tied at a set apiece.
In the third, Kerber saved a break point at 1-1, but she was less successful at 2-2 when Fernandez roared ahead after clinching the first break of the set.
An ace consolidated for 4-2 when Fernandez propelled herself towards the finish line as Kerber’s challenge faded and, after saving 2 break points, the young Canadian served out the match at 5-2, winning the last 5 games of the match in the process.
“I did have to pinch myself a little bit to see that it actually happened, but I knew that my tennis, my level of tennis is there,” Fernandez said. “It’s just a moment of time, opportunity, and I’m glad that I was able to get this opportunity now and that I was able to showcase what I can do in front of these players.
“Even if I would have lost, I would have been proud of myself with the way that I played, the way that I fought.
“I was lucky enough to get the win today and just getting this experience. It’s my first quarter-finals in a Grand Slam. I’m just going to enjoy it at 100 per cent, and tomorrow is going to be a new day.”
Now in the quarter-finals, Fernandez lines up to take on Svitolina, which means that her birthday celebrations may have to be put on hold for a bit.
“Well, tomorrow I’ll be focusing on the doubles match, but today I think we’re just going to have a nice little dinner with my team and my family here in New York,” she added.
“I’m glad that my older sister and her fiancé, and also my cousin, were able to come and watch my match, so we are just going to go celebrate at a nice Italian restaurant we have been going to every night.”
Kerber, 15 years her elder, reflected later: “I think it was a tough one. I mean I gave everything I had today.
“She played, I think, an unbelievable match, especially in the third set.
“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.”
Opening play on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Day 7, Svitolina extended her win streak to 9 matches with a comprehensive 6-3 6-3 win over the 12th-seeded Simona Halep.
The Romanian former World No 1 missed the French Open and Wimbledon because of a torn calf muscle, and she was not yet fully match-fit after 3 months off tour.
“When you don’t have many matches, you always are a little bit stressed before the match,” Halep explained later. “But overall I think I did a good job here, and I’m looking forward actually with positive thoughts.
“I’m positive about how I played, how I feel. No pain, no injury. So this is the most important thing.
“Now I need a little bit of rest and to reflect a little bit what I have to do better next time against her because always it’s been a tough match with her.
“But, yeah, it’s normal that she had a better chance today because she played so much this year and she had confidence very high. So, yeah, I think it was a good day.”
Svitolina, who has yet to drop a set in New York, recovered from a break down to take the first set before Halep hit back from a break down in the second, but the Ukrainian broke the Romanian’s resistance by converting a 3rd break point to win a pivotal 7th game.
The recently married Olympic bronze medallist, who is seeking her first Grand Slam title, collected her 16th career title in Chicago last week, and extends her season record 37-16.
“It was a great match, I was excited going into it because I know what a big fighter Simona is,” Svitolina said in her on-court interview. “I knew I would have to play my best and I’m extremely happy with the win.”
Both players finished with a positive ratio of winners to unforced errors, Svitolina had 16 to 14 while Halep totalled 24 to 21, but it was the Ukrainian’s serve that did the damage as she landed 66% of her first deliveries and won 71% of those points, striking 10 service winners.
“I think, in the first set, the key game was coming back from 15-40 at 3-All,” Svitolina told the media later. “It was really important to take one point at a time and fight to come back.
“I think it was really strong performance from me on the important moments, even when Simona came back in the second set to break me again.
“It was extremely tough, but I think I was mentally strong, didn’t let that break me. Really helped me to close this match in two sets.
“Right now I’m feeling good. I think I’m playing really aggressive right now. I think the most aggressive I’ve ever been, making lots of winners, serving really good.
“I want to keep this going, feeling that I’m in a good mind.”
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka must be quietly eyeing her first Grand Slam title after flying under the radar and making it into the last 8 for the first time in New York after beating her good friend and former doubles partner Elise Mertens, 6-4 6-1, in an hour 10 minutes.
“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 afterwards.
Sabalenka & Mertens have teamed up to win 2 Grand Slam doubles titles together, and each of them have taken a turn at Doubles World No 1 during that run, with the Belgian currently still occupying the top spot in doubles.
The Belarusian had a big 5-2 lead in their singles head-to-head coming into the clash, and she continued to dominate proceedings, striking 22 winners to Mertens’ 13 and, despite slamming 10 double-faults, converting 4 of her 5 break points.
Late in the night, No 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova prevailed in a battle of major champions, defeating 9th-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-3 7-6(4), in an early-morning finish to advance to the quarter-finals at the US Open.
The Roland Garros champion held off a spirited comeback from the Spaniard, winning 29 of her last 32 matches and notching up her 4th Top 10 win of the season to make her second major quarter-final of the season where she faces Sabalenka on Tuesday.
The match pitted Muguruza’s firepower against Krejcikova’s craft, and the Czech built a quick 3-0 lead with patiently crafted points that allowed her to control the rallies from the middle of the court.
Muguruza reeled in the Czech by shortening the points and breaking serve with 2 forehand winners to get back on track, only for Krejcikova to calmly win the last 3 games to take the set, and then jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the second.
Finding more pace and depth and leaning on her own defensive skills, Muguruza began to wrench control of the baseline rallies and, as Krejcikova’s backhand began to break down, the Spaniard reeled off 5 consecutive games to earn 3 set points on the Czech’s serve at 4-5.
The Czech gamely saved all 3 and held with her 10th ace of the night, but then went off court for a medical timeout before she was to serve at 5-6.
When the match resumed, Krejcikova held to love and played a clean tiebreak to win it 7-4, closing out the match after 1 hour 54 minutes.
After the match, Krejcikova sat at her bench and appeared to struggle to catch her breath. After declining the post-match interview, she was eventually helped off court by the physio and tournament doctor.
Later, two-time major title winner Muguruza criticised Krejcikova for being unprofessional following the briefest of handshakes at the net.
“Well, I think, between players, you know, a little bit how to behave in certain moments and, yeah, I wasn’t very happy at the end of the match,” she said.
In addition to the medical timeout Krejcikova irritated the 9th-seed by taking her time between points down the stretch, slowly walking over to her towel.
She did not appear at a post-match news conference but made a statement through the USTA: “At the end, I was really struggling and I feel really bad right now. I don’t really know what happened, but I couldn’t breathe. I started to feel dizzy, and the whole world was shaking. It never happened to me before.”