Three Americans were in early action in New York on Friday, but Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the 5th seed at the US Open, came from a set down to defeat the first, Shelby Rogers, in the opening match on Louis Armstrong Stadium, while later, in the afternoon, 18-year old Coco Gauff saw off compatriot Madison Keys on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
You know, I know that I don't play the best on hard court, but it's always amazing to see how I'm improving, how I'm pushing my limits. I just don't want to stop here. You know how much I love New York, how much I want to be here... I'm just gonna keep fighting and keep pushing and breaking records here. Ons Jabeur
Jabeur needed 2 hours and 17 minutes to wrap up her match against Rogers, 4-6 6-4 6-0, but Gauff’s victory over Keys took only 71 minutes.
“I’m very happy that I kept fighting, and went until the end, and got the win,” said a relieved Jabeur later.
She had survived a thrilling duel to down the home hope to reach the 4th round of the hard court major for the first time, but she had squandered 6 of the 8 break points she carved out in the opening set, before hitting her stride in the second, in which she dropped just 2 first-serve points.
Rogers called on the trainer to receive some treatment on her right arm before the start of the decider, and, with Jabeur sprinting through the first 4 games, it seemed to be game over, but the American is made of stern stuff and refused to cave in, fighting off 5 match points from 0-40 down in the 7th game to hold her serve.
The World No 31 then broke Jabeur in the next game to roars of approval from the Armstrong crowd, but a couple of inopportune errors from the American handed the win to Jabeur on her 6th match point, and the Tunisian yelled out in relief.
“Crazy match,” said Jabeur in her on-court interview. “Even down 5-1, 40-love, she doesn’t make the mission easy for me!”
Both struggled on serve at the start, with 4 of the first 6 games favouring the returner until Rogers ended the trend by holding onto her delivery first and then, in the 10th game, she collected the set after breaking Jabeur for the 3rd time.
They looked to have settled into a rhythm in the second act as there were no break chances until the 9th game, when Rogers faced two, which was all Jabeur was looking for, and the 28-year-old only needed the one to go up, before consolidating and clinching the set to love.
The deciding set went in favour of Jabeur, who came up with winner after winner as Rogers clearly struggled at the other side of the net, the Tunisian finishing with 28 winners to the American’s 25, and 38 unforced errors to the latter’s 46 miscues.
Jabeur, who became the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final at Wimbledon this year, has now reached the second week at each of the Grand Slams, while her previous best showings at Flushing Meadows were a trio of 3rd-round runs between 2019 and 2021.
“Finally,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference. “[The US Open second week] means a lot.
“You know, I know that I don’t play the best on hard court, but it’s always amazing to see how I’m improving, how I’m pushing my limits.
“I just don’t want to stop here. You know how much I love New York, how much I want to be here.
“Just amazing to put the hard work, even though the preparation for the hard court season wasn’t great. But just the main reason to be here, and the main goal for me is always to play good here.
“I’m just gonna keep fighting and keep pushing and breaking records here.”
Rogers has developed a reputation as a giant-killer and was bidding for her 8th Top 10 win, having ousted World No 1 Ash Barty in the 3rd round here last year, and she reached her first WTA 500 final in San Jose, cracking the Top 30 as a result.
Jabeur showed true grit as well as touch to deny the American, coming through a thoroughly entertaining affair that featured its share of all-court exchanges and crowd-pleasing winners.
After pausing to be sick court-side before the final game, the Tunisian withstood a last-ditch fightback from Rogers to convert her 6th match point.
Jabeur improved her first serve percentage from 55% in the first set to 67% in the second, which enabled her to weather Rogers’ shot-making and make her move at 4-4, diving for a spectacular backhand winner off a finely angled Rogers counter-drop, while consecutive American double-faults coughed up the only break of the set, and the World No 5 served it out to force a third.
After the treatment to her right arm, Rogers lost 5 games in a row from 4-3 up in the second set as her game subsided into a cascade of 19 unforced errors in the decider.
Rogers rediscovered her shot-making prowess with her back to the wall, saving 6 match points in that game and then breaking Jabeur as she served for the match, but the deficit proved too much to make up, and 4 cheap forehand errors from the American put the Tunisian over the line.
Jabeur will bid for her 4th career major quarter-final against No18 seed Veronika Kudermetova, who raced through the quickest match of the tournament so far, defeating Dalma Galfi from Hungary, 6-2 6-0, in just 46 minutes.
After breaking Galfi for 3-2 in the first set, the Russian dropped just 4 more points and a 16-point streak ended the first set and started the second, with a 13-point run finishing off the match.
The Russian tallied 15 winners to 6 unforced errors, and won all 24 of her first-serve points.
Kudermetova, whose quarter-final run at Roland Garros this year was her first Grand Slam second-week appearance, is also in the 4th-round at the US Open for the first time, and she holds a perfect 3-0 head-to-head record over Jabeur, including a win last month in San Jose.
“The thing is, the pressure’s on her, she always won against me,” said Jabeur. “Now I feel like I really need to listen to what [coach] Issam [Jellali] has to say to really figure out how I’m gonna win this one.
“In Grand Slams, sometimes, you just have to keep fighting and just get the win, even playing ugly.”
Later, Gauff, the 12th-seed, won the all American home derby with 2017 US Open runner-up Keys, breaking her 5 times as she ran out a comfortable victor on Ashe.
The 18-year old was the runner-up at the French Open earlier in the year, and is making her best run so far at her home Grand Slam as she reached the 4th-round.
“I learned a lot from that match,” Gauff told reporters earlier this week. “In the beginning of the year I feel like in general, I wasn’t in a good head space, I wasn’t confident in my tennis. I feel like now I’m really confident in my tennis.
“I think my serve is a lot better. I’m winning a lot of first-serve points. Forehand has improved a lot. Return has improved. Also, just my mentality on the court.”
On Friday, Gauff dominated her fellow American in a clean, comprehensive and thoroughly cerebral fashion, and only after the last point, did she scream with more animation than usual, pointing at her head.
Keys, who reached the finals here in 2017, is a classic hard-court power player who has recorded the most aces of any woman on the surface this year, but Gauff held her own against such power, and she was able to frustrate her with nearly impenetrable defence.
In a 2nd-round match against Elena-Gabriela Ruse, Gauff knocked off a 128 mph serve, which was the second-fastest serve by a woman in US Open history, and only one mile-per-hour behind the best efforts of top seed Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem.
Gauff saw the number on the scoreboard
“I looked at it and I was like, `Whoa,’” Gauff told reporters later. “Yeah, I don’t know how that happened. It didn’t feel like I hit it that hard.
“I kind of looked at [Ruse] after. She was laughing at her box. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on either’.”
Gauff goes on to meet Zhang Shuai from China, who ended Rebecca Marino’s run in New York, 6-2 6-4.