Day-10. 2016 US Open

Day-10’s Quarterfinal thriller between Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray is on the short list of US Open matches to remember this decade. It had a little bit everything: High-level tennis, intrigue after Murray’s thumping of Nishikori in the Olympic Semifinals…plus rain, the roof, and of course “Gonggate.” It certainly led to one of the longest match recaps I’ve ever written. Take a look at match #2 below…

In other Quarterfinal play, Karolina Pliskova easily advanced with a win over 18-year-old Ana Konjuh – Serena Williams survived a three-set scare with Simona Halep – and Stan Wawrinka ended Juan Martin Del Potro’s Wild Card run here in Flushing, though Delpo’s fans gave him a send-off like no other.

The 2016 US Open Semifinals are set:

  • [1] Serena Williams (USA) vs [10] Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
  • [2] Angelique Kerber (GER) vs Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
  • [1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs [10] Gael Monfils (FRA)
  • [3] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) vs [6] Kei Nishikori (JPN)

[10] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) def Ana Konjuh (CRO)

Final 6-1, 6-2. Set-1 was a beat-down. Pliskova broke Konjuh twice before the first changeover. Ana finally got on the board with a hold, 1-4. Down 1-5, the 18-year-old Croatian found her first-serve and kept the set alive, driving a deep backhand past the World #11. Unfazed, Pliskova served out the set at love.

Set-1 behind her, Konjuh settled her “first career Slam Quarterfinal” nerves. She held through the first sit-down, but Pliskova was simply too good. Karolina broke to go up 3-2 and ran away with the match in just 57-minutes.

Karolina Pliskova has now won 10-consceutive matches this Summer. Before the Open, she won her 6th career WTA Singles title in Cincinnati, defeating three top-10’s before hoisting the trophy: (10) Svetlana Kuznetsova, (3) Garbine Muguruza, and (2) Angelique Kerber. Here in Flushing, she took-out (6) Venus Williams in the Round of 16. Needless to say, she carries a ton of confidence into tomorrow night’s Semifinal, knowing – without question – that she has the weapons to defeat the WTA’s best. She’ll need those weapons, particularly that devastating first-serve. UP NEXT: Serena Williams

[6] Kei Nishikori (JPN) def [2] Andy Murray (GBR)

Final 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5. With the roof Open on a muggy Wednesday in Ashe, Andy Murray picked-up right where he left off in Rio. After their Semifinal clash at the Summer Games, Kei Nishikori went-on to earn Olympic Bronze; Murray captured Gold. Truth is – that Rio Semifinal was a terrible match. The day-prior, Kei won an exhausting battle with Gael Monfils, earning it 8-6 in the deciding tie-break. He was spent. Murray cruised to the Gold Medal match with a 6-1, 6-4 victory. Though Andy jumped-out to an early one-set lead here in Flushing, the match was far from over…

SET-1

Most expected a more competitive first set. After all, Kei had advanced to the Quarters with a straight-sets win over Ivo Karlovic. Both had enjoyed a day off. Instead…it was deja vu (all over again). The sport’s best returner, Andy Murray put pressure on Kei’s serve from ball-up. The Scot broke to go up 3-1, again to lead 5-1, then Andy snatched the opener behind an ace. Dominance. Again.

Here’s the deal: While Novak Djokovic has struggled, Andy Murray has taken full advantage. He’s had a ridiculous Summer. After falling to Novak in the French Open Final, Andy won 22 consecutive matches – winning Queens Club, Wimbledon, his second Olympic Gold Medal, and reaching his 19th career Masters-1000 Final in Cincinnati.

SET-2

Side note: Dear US Open – Now that you have both a radar AND a roof, is there any chance we could close Ashe’s new addition BEFORE the sprinkles hit the court? On serve, Murray up 40-30 in set-2, light rain interrupted play for about 5-minutes. Ultimately Murray won the next point, then jumped ahead 3-2 with his third break of the match.

Nishikori had had enough. Just four points later, we were back on serve, and life returned to Arthur Ashe Stadium; fans hoping to glean some value from their $800 tickets.

And then – sigh – at 40-30 Nishikori, the rain came again…heavy enough to suspend play and send the players to the locker room while they closed the roof.

After a 20-minute delay – with one serve, Nishikori kept it level, and brilliant tennis began. Murray caught-up to a Nishikori drop-shot, delivering a dazzling lob. Kei crushed a few remarkable passes, painting the lines. Before you knew it, up 5-4, Nishikori earned set-point, and leveled the match on a Murray forehand that caught the tape.

SET-3

Murray started with a break. Kei answered with a break of his own. Ticket-holders were getting their money’s worth. The shot-making was exquisite, the intensity real. This was the match Nishikori wished he’d been able to play in Rio.

At 3-all, a Nishikori double-fault gave Murray his first break-point since game-1; a backhand wide gave Andy the edge. Up 40-0, a point from consolidation, Murray unbelievably lost the next five points. Set-3 was all-even again…for 3-minutes.

Despite a highlight-worthy, leaping backhand pass from Nishikori, Murray made it three consecutive breaks, then served out the set at love, 6-4. Kei would have to do it in five, if he were to do it all.

SET-4

Up 2-sets to 1, two rain delays behind him, Andy Murray was ready for this thing to be done. At 1-all, he had the upper-hand during a break point…when digital interference from the sound system interrupted play. My goodness. What next?! Miria Cicak called a let. Nishikori regrouped, and won the game. 2-1 Nishikori, on-serve. Murray wasn’t happy; momentum shifted.

After the changeover, Nishikori earned double break point and lept ahead on a Murray mishit. The tables had turned. “#Gonggate” started trending. Kei would consolidate with a ridiculous, unplayable lob – and we were on-track to go five; Nishikori up 4-1. With an incredibly athletic stab at the net, Kei picked up another break point, Murray sent a backhand long, then Kei served out the set. Fans would get a decider.

SET-5

Clearly more focused on tennis, versus the litany of distractions (including now a MOTH, of all things), Kei opened the final set with a break, then immediately held. Murray was flummoxed. But great champions overcome. After the changeover, Murray stepped-in, took returns even earlier, earned triple break point, and righted the ship…or so we thought.

At 2-all…Improbably…Nishikori dug himself out of a 40-15 hole and broke Murray to regain the upper-hand. Incredible stuff. He’d hang-on to the lead, winning his next service game.

Down 2-4, Murray battled, and held. After 3-and-a-half hours, Nishikori was pounding the heaviest pace of the match. There were zero free points. Both won exhausting rallies at the net; as point-shortening drop-shots proved ineffective.

Up 4-3, break-point Murray, Kei tried to serve-and-volley…and came up short. Suddenly we were back on-serve: 4-all.

Kei remained aggressive, but was starting to miss. His runs to the net left volleys long. After leading the entire 5th set, he was now serving just to stay in the match, down 4-5. Mission accomplished. Kei held at love.

At 5-all, thanks to a double-fault, Murray found himself facing ANOTHER break point. Nishikori threw down a drop-shot, Murray hustled and made a remarkable play on the ball…but Kei’s reactions were too keen. He stabbed at it, made contact, and lofted the ball over Murray’s head, cleanly into the court. The World #7 would have a chance to serve for the match…and a spot in his second US Open Semifinal.

Five points later, we were done. In their 9th career clash, Kei Nishikori earned his second career win over the World #2, and is now 5-0 against top-10 players at the US Open.

[5] Simona Halep (ROU) vs [1] Serena Williams (USA)

Final 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Once upon a time (2014), Simona Halep defeated Serena Williams 6-0, 6-2 in the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals. In Serena’s words after that match: “My serve was at best in the 10 and under division in juniors. It was actually embarrassing I think describes the way I played. Yeah, very embarrassing.”

Since then, Serena has dominated Halep – in the 2015 Miami Semifinal…the 2015 Cincinnati Final…and earlier this year in the Quarterfinals at Indian Wells. After the first set, tonight appeared to be no different.

SET-1

Serena jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Simona won the next two games, but that was all she had in her. Williams broke twice-more to take the set in just over 30-minutes.

SET-2

Pedal to the floor…Serena held to start set-2, then dragged Halep through an exhausting 12-minute deuce battle before the World #5 could level it.

Though it felt like Serena had the edge, the win juiced Halep’s mojo. Suddenly, Simona had double break point on the 6-time US Open champ. Serena erased both with a pair of aces; but several deuces later, Williams handed-over the break with a double fault. Uh-oh.

Halep held to go up 3-1. Serena answered with a hard-fought hold of her own, throwing-down a double fist-pump on the game’s final winner. At 5-3, Simona earned set-point at 30-40 on Serena’s serve, but Williams ultimately kept the set alive – forcing Simona to serve for it.

This turned into a hell of a show. Serena earned her first break-point as Simona sent a forehand long. Two points later, Halep earned set-point. The see-saw went back and forth for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, after 5 break-points for Serena, Simona Halep leveled the match on set-point #4. Clutch performance.

SET-3

After the first sit-down, Serena picked-up the early break, then held to go-up 4-1 – two games away from her 8th consecutive US Open Semifinal. Down 2-5, Simona did her part, successfully serving to stay in the match. At 5-3, Serena did hers…serving out the win.

Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) vs [3] Stan Wawrinka (SUI)

Final 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. This was the 8th career meeting between Juan Martin Del Potro and Stan Wawrinka. Going-in, the head-to-head favored Delpo, who picked up his 4th win over Stan earlier this Summer in the 2nd-Round of the Wimbledon Championships.

SET-1

Set-1 started with the dominant Del Potro we got used to seeing in Rio. Behind that epic forehand, he jumped ahead 3-0 before the first changeover. Down 1-4, Stan battled back, winning three consecutive games to get back on serve. In the tie-break, it was Stan’s turn to jump ahead 3-0. Up 4-2 at the change of ends, Wawrinka eventually won the tie-break 7-5, and the set.

SET-2

Juan Martin Del Potro struck first in set-2, breaking the World #3 to go up 4-3. 3-games and 3-dozen windmill forehands later, we were all even after nearly 2-hours of play. “Ole…ole ole ole…Delpo…Delpo…”

SET-3

Set-3 started at midnight. If were going five, we were on pace to shatter a record. It’s a three-way tie for the latest night match here in Flushing. 2:26am is the magic number…

  • 2014 R16 Kei Nishikori def Milos Ranic
  • 2012 3R Philipp Kohlschreiber def John Isner
  • 1993 2R Mats Wilander def Mikael Pernfors

Just after 12:30, Stan earned a timely break, leaping ahead 5-3…a chance to serve-out the set, and shave some time off the match. At 12:40 – two-hours and 33-minutes into the match, the Swiss was up 2-1.

SET-4

Del Potro took a page from Kei Nishikori to start the fourth, mixing-in drop-shots, trying to shorten points. It didn’t help. The Argentine looked gassed. Stan broke right off the top, then came back from 0-30 to consolidate. He was just 4-games away from his 3rd career US Open Semifinal. Delpo fans were undeterred – chanting, cheering, a chorus of “Ole’s” urging him on. Sadly – for them and Delpo – Stan marched to his seat saluting the sleepless, up two breaks 3-0. Just past the 3-hour mark, Warinka delivered an ace to go up 5-1…while Delpo held at love to keep the match alive.

It all came down to game-8: “Ole – ole ole ole – Delpo, Delpo!” The big Argentine’s fans wouldn’t even let Stan serve, cheering-on Juan from court-side, desperate for more. Delpo was clearly touched, applauding from the opposite end of the court. Finally Stan stepped-in, and 5-points later – with a flawless backhand up the line – rightfully earned his spot in the 2016 US Open Semifinals, avenging June’s loss in the 2nd-Round at Wimbledon.