The draw is opening up for Canadian Bianca Andreescu after taking care of the tricky home favourite Taylor Townsend in the night session of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Labor Day in New York.
I'm just trying to focus every time I step on court, just trying to look at point per point. I was trying to play aggressive, trying to improve myself. Elise Mertens
It ended Townsend’s US Open dream, as the No 15 seed overcame a spirited challenge from the serve-and-volleyer qualifier in a tough three-set battle, 6-1 4-6 6-2.
The 18-year-old Canadian now advances to her first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final, after coming through in an hour and 55 minutes of intriguing play.
The clash between two versatile, all-court players who have so delightfully pushed the boundaries of the women’s game during this final Grand Slam of the season was highly anticipated and, from a tactical point of view, it did not disappoint.
It wasn’t a hitting contest as much it was a chess match, played on a tennis court.
It was a match of momentum swings and adjustments, as the Canadian and her 23-year-old opponent threw everything in their considerable bag of tricks at each other.
Townsend’s net rushing game had got her into the second week of the tournament, but she quickly had to go back to the drawing board when Andreescu had an answer for everything.
The Canadian teenager had seen Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, one of her role models, fail to counter Townsend’s forward-thinking game in a shocking second-round upset.
Andreescu, however, had solutions.
“I think I’m a pretty good problem solver on the tennis court,” she said. “I wasn’t always very good at that. It developed over time, I guess, with practise. I’m glad that showed today.”
After the match, Andreescu said she spent some time on the practice courts working on her passing shots, and it showed.
The Canadian seemed more than prepared and completely unbothered by the American’s net-rushing style, passing and lobbing Townsend at will in the early exchanges.
She tried to keep her first-serve percentage at a high level, so Townsend wouldn’t be able to chip and charge on her weaker second serve.
She put more heat on her second serve, which caused some double faults, but also kept the American from attacking as often.
She jammed Townsend with some body serves to create some awkward returns, thus reducing the American’s opportunities to take the net.
Andreescu came to the net herself and finished off points with volleys, hitting drop shots to lure Townsend in under circumstances that were not of her own choosing.
The Canadian also hugged the baseline on both the first and second serve returns, standing some 6 feet closer, on average, than Halep had.
That positioning robbed Townsend of the element serve-volleyers most covet -those extra nanoseconds of time to get as close to the net as possible for that first volley.
Townsend managed just 41 percent of points at the net in the first set against Andreescu, considerably lower than the 60 percent won in her match against Halep.
Although Andreescu struggled on her serve, hitting 5 double faults and winning just 3 of 9 second-serve points, her ground strokes more than compensated, and she hit 13 winners to quickly take a one-set advantage after 31 minutes of play.
Andreescu’s form noticeably dipped in set two, as she was broken on her first service game, and although she broke back 3 games later, she seemed flustered by a change in tactics.
The Canadian started to pull the trigger too quickly in points, resulting in uncharacteristic errors.
The pair still stayed on serve to 5-4, but then Andreescu double-faulted on break point to hand the set to the American.
In the final set, Andreescu regrouped, reined in her aggression and proved to be too formidable for Townsend once again.
The American showed her mental toughness by saving 4 match points on her own serve at 5-1, but ultimately couldn’t overcome the 5th in the next game.
“I heard some Canadian fans here and there, which was nice, especially in tougher moments,” Andreescu said of the partisan crow. “But no, it’s not easy.
“I tried not to pay attention to that, but it’s hard when it’s, like, everyone. I’m glad with how I managed to just keep my cool.”
Andreescu countered the crowd with an aggressive presence built to quiet those fans whenever she could.
The Canadian hit 13 winners and went 7-for-10 at the net in a quick first set, while holding Townsend to just seven winning points in 17 trips.
Almost everything she hit went in. But those narrow margins worked against Andreescu in the second.
Suddenly, she was making more errors. And it was Townsend who got off to the fast start in the second set by jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
As the overhitting continued, the crowd support for her opponent increased and, for the first time in her last few matches, the pressure and stress began to show a little bit.
A double fault into the net, her 7th of the match, gave the second set to Townsend and after an hour and 12 minutes, all that great work was neutralised as the match the match was dead even.
“I tried to take the momentum from the first set into the second set as much as I could. She was just on top of it really in the second set. She played really, really well,” Andreescu said.
“She was coming up with incredible shots, just getting me off balance. Obviously the crowd really helped her, I’m sure.
“But I just tried to stay in my own bubble. I tried to just focus more on myself and my game.”
Andreescu was definitely unsettled and a little shaky, but she has known almost nothing but winning in 2019, and that carried her through, adding this victory to her last 11 three-set matches that she has won.
Just a year ago, Andreesci was ranked 178th in the world and lost in the first round of qualifying at the US Open.
After an incredible year in which she won Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup, Andreescu now reaches her first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final here.
It has been a long journey and since her breakout at Indian Wells, the 18-year-old was forced to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon due to lingering shoulder issues.
She will next face 2018 Australian Open semi-finalist Elise Mertens, who she has never played before, for a spot in the last four, hoping to continue her winning streak, not having lost a completed match since March.
For Townsend, the qualifier from Atlanta who became a fan favourite with her aggressive play, her Round-of-16 run stands as her best career Grand Slam result.
She had not been beyond the second round at a major since she reached Round 3 at the 2014 French Open in her major main-draw debut.
Just 23, she still has plenty of time to build off this result, which will lift her back into the WTA’s Top 100.
Interestingly, Townsend is the player primarily known for her serve-and-volley style, but Andreescu actually posted better net statistics in the match, winning 65 percent of her points when she came forward.
Earlier in the day, Belgium’s Elise Mertens made it into her first US Open quarter-final without dropping a set after taking down American wildcard Kristie Ahn, 6-1 6-1, on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“I’m just trying to focus every time I step on court, just trying to look at point per point,” Mertens said in her post-match press conference. “I was trying to play aggressive, trying to improve myself.
“That’s probably the main key. Just try to focus throughout the whole match.”
The No 23 seed navigated past Jil Teichmann in the first round, the big-serving Kristyna Pliskova and resurgent Andrea Petkovic en route to the 4th round, equalling her best previous result in Flushing Meadows.
Across the net, Ahn was recording the best week of her career in a Cinderella run to the Last 16.
Having made her Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2008, the American finally recorded her first main draw victory at a major this week, the largest gap between Grand Slam main draw debut and first Grand Slam main draw match win in Open Era history.
Ahn faced down multiple Grand Slam champions en route to her clash with Mertens, getting past Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Kalinskaya and Jelena Ostapenko, but the dream run to a first major quarter-final came to an abrupt end against the former Australian Open semi-finalist , who dominated from the start and didn’t let up the intensity en route to a comprehensive straight sets victory in 67 minutes.
“It was weird because I felt like I wasn’t playing badly,” Ahn explained afterward. “I looked at the scoreboard, I’m like, ‘You’re getting whooped.’
“I thought she played very smart. She had a game plan, and she executed it very well.
“I think a lot of it had to do with her kind of breaking my rhythm or not allowing me to have rhythm.
“I don’t think she allowed me to see the same ball twice.”
Mertens made the perfect start as she recorded an early break to build up a 2-0 lead, keeping Ahn out of the rallies and applying the pressure on the American’s serve.
Ahn continued to press, creating a break opportunity to get them back on serve, but Mertens brushed it away extend her lead to 3-0.
Another Mertens break, this time for 5-1, was followed by more Ahn opportunities, 2 more of her 3 break points in the match, but the Belgian was dialled in and closed out the set, 6-1.
Dropping the opening set seemed to take the wind out of Ahn’s sails, with the American already sporting plenty of tape on her knee and elbow.
Mertens once again scored an early break and then reeled off the last 4 games in a row to claim a spot into her first US Open quarter-final.
“It was actually a tough match,” Mertens admitted. “I didn’t really expect me to play so well in the first set probably.
“I was really playing aggressive, really not letting her into those rallies because she kind of likes to get right, left, into those rallies. Just trying to fight the way through it.”
Mertens fired 17 winners to Ahn’s 9, and kept her unforced errors in check – 15 to her opponent’s 25.
As a result, the Belgian stayed in command during the big points, and saved all 3 break points she faced.
Mertens next plays Canadian 15th seed Bianca Andreescu in the quarters.
“Andreescu has an all-around game,” Mertens assessed. “She’s on fire when she’s on the court. It’s going to be really tough either way.”