It came down to the wire on Sunday, when America’s Shelby Rogers outlasted Petra Kvitova, the No 6 seed, at the US Open after a thrilling 2 hours and 40 minutes of play on Louis Armstrong Stadium in a match worthy of Labor Day Weekend but, sadly, without a fan present in the stands.
I knew I could always do it. It was a matter of head down, working hard to get back to that point. Being here, I want to push past it, really see what I'm made of. Shelby Rogers
Rogers survived 4 match points against her, and won the final set tiebreak to book a spot in her first-ever US Open quarter-final, 7-6(6) 3-6 7-6(6).
“Day 72 in the bubble,” Rogers joked to laughter from the media during her post-match press conference. “It’s been a long time here in New York. I’m happy to be sticking around for some more.”
The World No 93 is becoming quite the giant-slayer these days, having dispatched Serena Williams last month in Lexington, and notched wins over No11 seed Elena Rybakina and fellow American Madison Brengle in her last two matches at Flushing Meadows.
Her run of fine form is all the more remarkable after she endured serious knee surgery in 2018, which kept her completely out of action for a full year before she made a return at her hometown event in Charleston last season.
Kvitova did help to propel Rogers to her second major quarter-final appearance, her usual explosive style generating 35 unforced errors to her 58 winners, and although the tall left-handed Czech actually won way more points than the American, 121 to 109, she could not grab the ones that really mattered.
Rogers saved 3 match points on Kvitova’s serve at 5-4 in the final set, then was saved from another when the Czech delivered a double-fault at 6-5 in the decisive tiebreak.
“The tiebreaker, the whole match actually, was a little bit of a roller coaster for both of us,” said Rogers. “The first set, you know, a tiebreak.
“[Kvitova] upped her level a little bit in the second there. I was up a break in the third, she breaks back. She’s just hitting missiles. She served unbelievable.
“To get that double-fault there in the [third-set] breaker, a little luck was on my side today I think.
“I just kept trying to hang in there and defend her balls, take care of my serve there in the third after I got broken. Thankfully somehow got it done.”
Kvitova was in trouble from the get-go when the hard-hitting Rogers conjured up a break point but the Czech held back-to-back aces.
Rogers matched Kvitova’s power with her own, and earned herself the first break with penetrating groundstrokes to lead 4-3.
The Czech claw it back to at 4-all, and they battled it on the tiebreak, in which Kvitova began to misfire with her forehand, giving Rogers a 4-1 lead.
Kvitova courageously pulled back to 5-5, but Rogers slammed a forehand winner at the end of a rally to clinch the breaker 7-5.
In the second, Kvitova took control after surviving 2 break points in her opening service game and managed a break to go up 2-1 before sweeping to a 5-3 lead with minimal fuss.
Rogers, serving to stay in the set, fell behind double set point, and on Kvitova’s second opportunity, the Czech slammed a deep return to set up an overhead winner and tie up the match at one set apiece.
The twists and turns of the third started with an immediate loss of service by Kvitova, ending in a double fault.
The Czech, however, recovered to level at 2-all, and set up her first big chance to close out the win at 5-4, as misfires long by Rogers gave the 6th seed 3 match points.
Rogers saved each chance, with a good serve, a deep forehand, and a brave pass respectively, as the American came up with the goods to survive that game and stay level with the two-time Grand Slam champion.
A love hold for 6-5 by Kvitova failed to faze Rogers, and she set up the decisive tiebreak with a divine drop-shot ending an extended breath-stealing rally.
They stayed mostly even through the breaker, but ultimately Kvitova earned her 4th match point at 6-5 that she threw away with a shocking double fault and when Rogers earned her first match point at 7-6 after a netted Kvitova forehand, it was all over as Kvitova misfired long on the return.
“I knew I could always do it,” said Rogers.”It was a matter of head down, working hard to get back to that point. Being here, I want to push past it, really see what I’m made of.”
In the last 8, Rogers meets Naomi Osaka, the No 4 seed from Japan, who was a straight-sets winner over 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.
Osaka quells Kontaveit
Naomi Osaka continues to make her way steadily through the draw, easing herself into the quarter-finals with a comprehensive win over Anett Kontaveit, 6-3 6-4.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Osaka said of her on-court composure. “If I’m reflecting on attitude, I’m pretty sure it was up there with my top matches of this short year.”
This is only her second appearance in the last 8 in New York, the first being in 2018 when she went on to win the title, and then moved into the World No 1 spot in the rankings.
Since then, Osaka has become the richest and most marketable athlete on the planet despite her subsequent patchy performances at times, and a drop in ranking to No 9.
During lockdown, the Japanese worked on her shyness and has emerged with a new-found purpose, both on and off the court, her eyes fixed on a second US Open title to add to her 2019 Australian crown, and leading the sport’s social conscience.
Facing an opponent who pushed her to 3 sets just last week, Osaka, made it through the match against Kontaveit without facing a break point to advance in 72 minutes under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It’s quite easy to get down on yourself, especially when you feel like you could have already converted so many opportunities,” she said. “But I just told myself that she’s a great player who’s supposed to hold her serve, so just to keep pushing.”
While Osaka had never lost to Kontaveit in their 4 prior meetings, their most recent encounter came at the Western & Southern Open, where the 2-time Grand Slam champion rallied from a set down to win a hard-fought thriller.
Kontaveit, the first Estonian to make it to the quarters in Melbourne back in January, has been displaying good form too, coming from a set down to defeat Danielle Collins, the only set she had lost in her US Open campaign thus far.
Osaka opened the match with an immediate break, dropping just 6 points behind her own delivery as she edged ahead 5-3, and stepping in on crucial returns to overpower the Estonian and take the first set.
“My leg felt better today,” she noted during her on-court interview when asked about the left hamstring injury that forced her to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open final last week. “I was moving quite well, so I’m very happy about that.”
Kontaveit, who was ranked as high as World No 14 last spring, steadied early in the second, staving off a break point to keep on a more even footing, but struggled to make inroads on her returns, winning just 3 of Osaka’s first 23 service points in the second set.
Saving 2 more break points in the 6th game, Kontaveit looked to level the set as she served to stay in the match, but a marathon game that featured 6 deuces and 5 saved match points drove her to the edge and, on the 6th, a brutal rally ensued in which Kontaveit netted her forehand in the face of Osaka’s impressive pace.
The Japanese struck 21 winners to 18 unforced errors, while losing just 5 points behind her first serve.
Kontaveit made 16 winners of her own, outweighed by 22 unforced errors, and couldn’t manage to muster a break point opportunity through the two sets.
Up next for Osaka is Shelby Rogers, who saved 4 match points before edging out two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova earlier in the day.
“I haven’t played her in a while, but she’s a great player,” said Osaka. “I’m just going in there very optimistic.
“I might be the underdog because I’ve never beaten her. I’m just happy to still be here.”