The last quarter-final of the women’s singles was determined in the early hours of Tuesday when Maria Sakkari edged past Bianca Andreescu on Arthur Ashe Stadium, to meet Karolina Pliskova, who got past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final match on the Grandstand court earlier in the evening.
I'm deadly honest, she was luckier than me in some parts of the match. She had many net calls, line calls as well. But I just said you cannot lose the match because you're unlucky. Just try. I'm trying to be calm, not lose my mind. I want to live this experience, this tennis experience, until I'm done. I don't want to look back and say that I did not enjoy matches like today. I mean, there was a decent crowd staying until 2:30 at night. I said, ‘Maria, you cannot give up. Just stay focused and stay calm and just make balls’. Maria Sakkari
Closing the night action after 2 am, Sakkari handed Andreescu her first US Open loss after a three-and-a-half hour battle, 6-7(2) 7-6(6) 6-3, to advance to her 2nd major quarter-final of the season.
The titanic battle ended at 2:13 am, setting the new US Open record for the latest finish of a women’s singles match.
Playing for the second time this season, Andreescu and Sakkari locked horns in a tense duel that was decided by just a handful of points.
They faced off in the spring in the semi-finals of the Miami Open, where Andreescu prevailed in a physically gruelling 3-set win determined in a final set tiebreak.
“I told Tom and my team before the match that I’m prepared for 7-6 in the third,” Sakkari said. “Seriously, I never thought that with Bianca it would be like 6-4, 6-1 unless I played lights out tennis, hit winners left and right.
“But because she fights every single point, I knew that it was going to be a very tough match.”
Aside from an early exchange of breaks, the first set was dominated by the serve, with short points barrelling them towards an opening tiebreak, with Andreescu keeping the return pressure on Sakkari and facing just 2 break points, while the Greek fended off 4 until the Canadian converted on her 5th.
After an electric 21-shot exchange won by Andreescu opened the tiebreak, and Sakkari double-faulted to give the Canadian the mini-break at 2-0 after which she romped home with the set after 63 minutes.
“I think, in the first set especially, I was not going for my shots like I normally do,” Sakkari said. “I was a little bit not very confident with my groundstrokes.
“I said, ‘Maria, if you want to win this match, you have to go for it. It’s better if you go for it and miss than just make balls, she hits winners’.
“I didn’t have the control of the match until middle of the second set.
“I felt like she was better than me, but then somehow I dug in and found a way to just turn things around. I was more brave after a certain point of the match, then got my energy level a little bit higher.”
Though the rallies grew more protracted in the second set, Andreescu and Sakkari continued to belt the ball as they headed to another breaker.
The World No 7 Greek dug in her heels and, after exchanging a pair of early mini-breaks, Sakkari prevailed in a 20-shot exchange to earn a 3-1 lead, while she also benefited from 2 forehand unforced errors to earn set points at 6-3.
Although Andreescu levelled at 6-6 with a miraculous hook smash, and came to within 2 points of the win, but the Greek rebounded immediately to close out the 86-minute set, 8-6 in the breaker.
“I’m deadly honest, she was luckier than me in some parts of the match,” Sakkari said, when asked about her reaction to the sideline winner at 5-6. “She had many net calls, line calls as well.
“But I just said you cannot lose the match because you’re unlucky. Just try. I’m trying to be calm, not lose my mind. I want to live this experience, this tennis experience, until I’m done. I don’t want to look back and say that I did not enjoy matches like today.
“I mean, there was a decent crowd staying until 2:30 at night. I said, ‘Maria, you cannot give up. Just stay focused and stay calm and just make balls’.”
Andreescu broke Sakkari immediately in the final set for 2-0, but the 17th seed broke back to love in the very next game.
Then, after holding serve for 3-2, Andreescu took an off-court medical timeout and returned with her upper left leg taped, after which the Canadian 6th seed could be seen physically struggling, and Sakkari played a disciplined return game to break for 4-3.
With the break in hand, Sakkari closed out the match with another break, converting on her 4th match point to advance to her first US Open quarter-final.
Sakkari saved 8 of 12 break points in the match, and finished with 46 winners to 40 unforced errors.
“I was expecting that, and I went out there with the right mindset, I think, and I did the best that I could,” Andreescu reflected on another physical match. “I wish I could have finished it in two sets, because I had my opportunities, but tennis is just like that sometimes.
“I take everything from this tournament and I just look at it, like, ‘Wow, I really fought through that. That was crazy’.
“I was cramping from the start of the third set, and I just kept fighting, and for me that’s all that matters. I did my best.
“At this point I really don’t know [what the injury was], but I slid a couple of times, and I fell on my groin a little bit. I hope it’s nothing too serious. But that affected me a little bit. I try not to think about it, but it’s hard sometimes. I just need to take some days off and hopefully it’ll be good.”
Next up for Sakkari is the No 4 seed, Pliskova, for a spot in her second Grand Slam semi-final of the season.
The tall Czech got past fellow 2021 Grand Slam finalist Pavlyuchenkova, 7-5 6-4, delivering just 6 aces, but the Russian tossed in 34 unforced errors.
The Wimbledon runner-up fired off 7 forehand winners and converted on break point in the final game in the first set, before fending off 6 of Pavlyuchenkova’s 7 break point opportunities in the second.
Pliskova came out on top in a 14-shot rally on the second-to-last point before breaking Pavlyuchenkova’s serve to close out the match.
The World No 4 has now put down an astonishing 58 aces so far at Flushing Meadows this year.
“Super happy with the win because the last two matches I lost against her. I think was important to get the win today,” Pliskova said. “I don’t think was super pretty match, not really good feeling from that. But I guess that doesn’t matter if I’m in the quarter-finals.”
A very evenly matched first set came to a fiery conclusion when Pliskova zipped to triple set point on the Pavlyuchenkova serve at 6-5.
A number of rallies followed, where the Russian prevailed on the first 2 before Pliskova won out on the 3rd, taking the one-set lead.
The second followed a similar pattern as the first, where early breaks were exchanged before a series of aggressively-played holds, but Pliskova had the last word again and, at 5-4, a gruelling rally, spurred on by surprisingly strong defence, went the Czech’s way, setting up match point, which she converted after a netted groundstroke by Pavlyuchenkova.
“Somehow I just found a way to, maybe, play a bit better than she did,” said Pliskova. “Just put pressure on her serve, which I managed to get a couple breaks.”
On Tuesday, the quarter-finals get underway with 19-year old Leylah Fernandez from Canada facing 2019 semi-finalist Elina Svitolina from Ukraine.
Svitolina has won her last 9 matches, while Fernandez has wins over Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber in her last two rounds.
At night, after her win over Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, another Czech, Barbora Krejcikova, will test the No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus.