US Open | Suárez Navarro stops Sharapova’s night run
Maria Sharapova’s unblemished run under the lights of the US Open has come to end.
After 22 consecutive night matches inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sharapova shone, thriving under lights, but on Monday night, against an opportune Carla Suárez Navarro, she crumbled.
Sharapova says being a teenager with a few hundred dollars in her pocket, with no sense of her future, was the toughest period of her career, not losing at the US Open in the last 16.
The five-time Grand Slam champion has not made it past the quarter-finals in any of her five major appearances since returning from a doping ban in 2017.
told myself to run and fight, that's the way I can play really good tennis. Carla Suarez Navarro
Sharapova won the last of her five Slams at Roland Garros in 2014, and made the fourth round in New York last year, the third round in Australia in January, and the quarter-finals in Paris before a first-round exit at Wimbledon.
Her latest loss was at the hands of a wily Spaniard, Carla Suárez Navarro who, on her 30th birthday, used her flowing single-handed backhand to draw a string of errors from the Russian.
“Maria has played here at night many times so I knew I needed to be aggressive, focussed and play solid,” said the 30th seed after clinching a 2nd win in 6 meetings with Sharapova.
“I told myself to run and fight, that’s the way I can play really good tennis.”
Sharapova produced 38 unforced, including 8 double faults, and it resulted in a loss of both sets, 6-4 6-3.
The former World No 1 slid down the rankings after being given a 15-month doping ban for using meldonium.
She tested positive for the banned substance, which is used to control heart disease-related conditions, at the 2016 Australian Open, but has always denied cheating.
Since returning to Grand Slam action at last year’s US Open, she has climbed to 22nd in the rankings and believes she can still challenge for major titles.
“If I didn’t have the belief to keep doing this and to keep having the motivation and the grind of doing this every day in order to get myself in these positions, I don’t think I would be here,” she said.
“The belief is not something that I’m eager to show everybody else. The belief matters most when it’s internal and when you have a passion for something.”
So it was Suárez Navarro who advanced to her second US Open quarter-final, her first since 2013, playing solidly when Sharapova was shaky, and simply refusing to be outhit by the Russian.
“I know that Maria plays every day here. For me it’s totally different, so I’m really happy because I really played a really good match. I really enjoyed this crowd, this amazing night session,” Suárez Navarro said.
The Spaniard broke for 2-1, but Sharapova’s worst service game was yet to come.
The 31-year-old double faulted three times, including a third double fault that landed in the bottom of the net, for 0-40, 1-3.
Suárez Navarro broke again when a desperate left-handed forehand from Sharapova missed its mark.
The fearlessness that Sharapova had shown in her previous night matches went AWOL, and it was as if she decided to go home swinging.
Picking up her level, she belted forehands and swinging through everything she could to get back one of the breaks for 2-4, but Suárez Navarro, whose one-handed backhand was stealing the spotlight, broke right back and later served out the set.
“She played really well. There’s a lot of things she did well. I thought in today’s conditions, her ball was getting up on me a little bit more, much more than my previous three opponents that I played,” Sharapova said.
“I didn’t take care of the chances that I had. By ‘chances,’ I mean the balls that were a little bit shorter. I hesitated to move forward. The balls where I did attack, I made unforced errors, especially on that inside-out forehand today… It’s just a little too up and down.”
The Spaniard pounced in the opening game of the second, and then broke for a third time with another backhand winner, her 14th winner of the night.
“I need to be aggressive. I’m working on that. Tried to be solid, tried to be all the time focused, fighting every time. I think this is the way that I can play really good tennis,” Suárez Navarro said.
She will play to make her maiden Grand Slam semi-final against 2017 finalist Madison Keys.
The 14th-seeded American has dropped only one set through her first four matches and has won all three of their head-to-heads.
“She has a lot of experience in this tournament, on this court. I try to enjoy the match like today,” Suarez Navarro said.
Madison Keys made the last-eight with a 6-1 6-3 win over Dominika Cibulkova.
The talented Keys won her first title while still a teenager at Eastbourne in 2014, and made the semis of the Australian Open and the quarters at Wimbledon in 2015.
She then won her second title in 2016, and made two big finals in Rome and Montreal, showing her precocious and elegant ability on all three surfaces, breaking into the top 10 into the bargain.
She hit injury problems at the end of that season, resorted to wrist surgery, and did not return until Indian Wells last year.
She had another minor procedure before Wimbledon, so by the time she hit the North American courts again, she was ranked down at 21, but her form picked up with a vengeance as she headed to the Stanford title.
Even so, most were unprepared for such an early breakthrough on the biggest stage, at the US Open where she made it all the way to the final, coming up against good friend and compatriot Sloane Stephens, who stormed to the title.
Keys’ determination to go one further took a step forward after overcoming Cibulkova, one of the fittest and most determined women on the tour.
On a blisteringly hot Arthur Ashe in the heat of midday, with an extreme shadow cutting across the court, Keys relished the support of the home crowd, and used her aggressive game, and superior height, to hold her opening serve, and press Cibulkova hard through 8 deuces and 4 break points to convert on the 5fth for 2-0 lead after 14 minutes.
She broke again in the 6th game and served out the set, 6-1, immediately breaking again in the second, too, but Cibulkova is not one to go down without a fight.
The Slovak earned her first break point of the match, and thumped a return of serve winner to square things up at 2-2.
Cibulkova coped admirably with her high ball-toss into the sun, and maintained a first-serve percentage at well over 75 percent, but Keys was onto it too fast and too effectively, and broke again, holding for 5-3.
One more break, and the American was into the quarter-finals in just 76 minutes, with 25 winners to only 15 errors to her credit.
“Today I think I served really well. I think the biggest thing is just being able to, you know, kind of push her back off of the baseline where she likes to hold her ground and just be able to dictate points like that,” Keys said after the match.
“Other than that, I think I did a really good job to stay in some important games where I was down love-30 or 15-40. That’s what I’m most happy about and what I have been looking at.”
Keys is still just 23, but already she has made the quarters of six Majors since that semi run in Australia a full three and a half years ago.
Snapping at her heels are a couple of 20-year-olds, Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenko, who are the same height, ranked just a spot apart, had never met before on the main tour, and had never made the fourth round of the US Open.
Sabalenka was seeded for the first time at a major, and her three wins to get to the fourth round were her first ever in the main draw in New York.
What is more, her form coming into the tournament was impressive, a semi-finalist in Cincinnati and winner in New Haven.
Osaka, a veteran of the US Open by Sabalenka’s standards, had made the third round in her last two visits, and really announced her arrival at the top table with victory at Indian Wells in March.
Judging from her previous three matches, in which she conceded a total of seven games, the Japanese, who has dual nationality, was feeling right at home in New York.
She stormed through the first set against Sabalenka in similar style, breaking twice to take the first set, 6-3, but the Belarusian came back at the Japanese also to break twice, helped by some formidable serving and dropping just five points on serve, 6-2.
Perhaps predictably in this first of what may become a long-term rivalry in the coming years, neither wanted to give way, and with a break apiece and at 4-4 in the decider, they had 77 points each.
Osaka threw down the gauntlet with a love hold for 5-4, and then worked 0-40 against the Sabalenka serve for three match points.
The Belarusian saved them all, but could not convert a game point.
Instead, a blistering return of serve from Osaka brought up another match point, and she was handed victory via a double fault.
“Every time I play a Grand Slam, people ask me if I’m going to go farther than the third round. Then in Australia, I went to the fourth round. Then people were like, ‘Are you going to go farther than that or is that where you’re going to stop,’” explained Osaka.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing here and going to the quarterfinals and further. I’m just glad I could do one of my goals.”
It was clear just how much the occasion meant to Osaka, normally calm and composed after a win, even a high-profile one, as she broke down in tears, the significance of the moment overwhelming her briefly.
The Japanese had dug deep to earn her first major quarter-final, where she will meet an unseeded player in Lesia Tsurenko, who dispatched the youngest remaining woman in the draw, 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova.
Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic overcame injuries and nerves, with the veteran eventually staging an improbable comeback over the teenager to win through 6-7(3) 7-5 6-2, to get to her first US Open quarter-final.
The 29-year-old Tsurenko struggled physically, later saying the heat was the primary factor, as did Vondrousova, and at times it seemed that whomever was left standing would be the one to take the win, as both visibly limped between points.
The pair combined for 129 unforced errors, Tsurenko had 57 and Vondrousova, 72, and 13 breaks of serve, Vondrousova was broken 8 times and Tsurenko 5.
In the end, it was the veteran who was able to put her foot on the gas pedal at the right moments to rattle her younger opponent and take the three-set victory.
Tsurenko had tears in her eyes after the match, in disbelief.
“I was really dizzy and I was just asking nature … I don’t know, the gods … to move the shade faster,” she said after the match.
“I was 2-0 down in the second set and then I said I need another five minutes to keep fighting, and I will feel better. … I just want to rest really and then forget about this match because it was really, really tough.”
She added: “I feel like I want an ice bath.”
It looked like Tsurenko would run away with the first, bounding to a 4-1 lead, but Voundrosova slowly plodded her way back into the set as both played weary, nervous tennis.
A double fault at 2-4 gave Vondrousova the break back and both held and with Tsurenko leading 5-4, she took a medical timeout to receive treatment on her left leg.
Soon after, Tsurenko was visibly limping, and while she was able to move during points, her leg clearly hampered her for the rest of the match as they headed towards a tiebreak which Vondrousova won, 7-3.
Tsurenko’s physical issues seemed to worsen in the second, but she was still able to scramble, and a combination of gritty gets and nerves from Vondrousova led to a tight contest that the Ukrainian eventually won.
Between sets, it was Vondrousova’s turn to call a trainer, who worked on her right leg, emerging from the locker room with a heavy white wrap on her right upper thigh.
While the court was now mercifully bathed in late afternoon shade, the primary question was who would be able to withstand their injury.
Tsurenko, the veteran, started to move well, forcing the ball deep and angling shots to make an injured and frustrated Vondrousova move around the court
The Ukrainian rattled off the first three games of the third easily, losing just one point in that span.
Vondrousova tried to get back into the match while dealing with her leg issues, but the errors continued and she was soon down 1-5, and although she held, Tsurenko won through on her third match point.