Day-5. 2016 US Open

Day-5 of this year’s US Open will be remembered for Rafa’s remarkable “tweener” to set-up match-point. Scroll down for his match recap to see the amazing lob for yourself. Also on Ashe, Madison Keys scored the biggest comeback win of her career; while Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber easily advanced to the Round of 16. Novak Djokovic played only six games before Mikhail Youzhny retired…so between the walk-over with Vesely and today’s six-games, he should be well rested for Sunday’s 4th-Round. On the grounds – Jack Sock, Kyle Edmund and Lesia Tsurenko scored big upsets. Details below…

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) def Monica Niculescu (ROU)

Final 6-3, 6-1. Just being honest: I thought this would be much more competitive. In fact, I didn’t give Caroline much of a chance going in, despite the fact that Wozniacki had beaten Niculescu in all six of their previous matches. Monica’s mixed-pace, tricky slice-slap, and consistent scrappiness had little impact on the 2-time US Open Finalist. Wozniacki downed the Romanian – who’s frustrated so many other WTA opponents with her eccentric play – in half the time of her New York City Marathon finish. It’s been a tough few years for Caroline, but there’s always this: She has now reached the 4th-Round in at least one Grand Slam every year since 2008.

You do know she qualified for the 2016 Boston Marathon, right? That’s sick. In 2002, I ran the original marathon in Athens, Greece – thanks to a dare from my evil brother. Took me 71-minutes longer…in a raging downpour…through lightning and flooding…with three smoke breaks. I’ve never recovered.

[8] Madison Keys (USA) def Naomi Osaka (JPN)

Final 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3). Naomi Osaka was doing everything right. She traded service games with the World #9 through most of the first set. Down 4-5, she didn’t choke, and held to keep set-1 alive. However, down 5-6, 30-all – two unforced errors gave Keys the first break and a one-set lead. 27-minutes later, we were all even. Osaka broke late in the second and served it out 6-4…then broke again at the top of the decider. Uh oh. Naomi was relentless. Huge serves. Overpowering ground strokes. Keys was flustered. First-serves flew far and wide. Ground-strokes found “nothing but net.” Osaka was clearly the aggressor, and broke again to go up 4-1.

Have you ever seen the wheels fall off a bus? Serving for the match, up 5-2, Naomi Osaka fell behind 15-40 with a double fault. Keys pounced. She won the game; then two more…and at 5-all, Madison made it four consecutive wins with a huge forehand pass. She was ahead 6-5. Somehow, Osaka managed to stem the bleeding, and forced the tie-break.

Up 4-2 at the change of ends, Madison simply started clocking the ball. Forehands. Serves. She couldn’t miss. After 2-hours and 7-minutes she pulled-out the greatest comeback of her career, 7-3 in the tie-break.

Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) vs [1] Novak Djokovic (SRB)

Final 4-2, RET. After a left wrist-injury and a heart-breaking First-Round loss at the Oympic Games in Rio, good fortune has finally taken a shine to Novak Djokovic. He withdrew from the Cincinnati Masters to rest and re-focus on defending his US Open title. After winning his 1st-Round match over Jerzy Janovicz (POL), his 2nd-Round opponent retired before the match, giving him an extra day of wrist. On Friday, during the second change-over, Mikhail Youzhny was on his back receiving treatment…and ultimately retired after winning his second service game.

So to nutshell the 12-time Grand Slam Champ’s US Open: Since winning his opener, he’s played a total of 6-games to reach the Round of 16. Those six games earned him $157,812.00 – Nice gig, if you can get it.

[4] Rafael Nadal (ESP) def Andrey Kuznetsov (RUS)

Final 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. Clinic. Rafael Nadal knew he had his hands full on Friday Night. Earlier this year in Doha, Andrey Kuznetsov played a remarkable match against the 14-time Grand Slam Champion, taking Nadal to a third and deciding set. Check out my interview with Rafa after that match. He came out knowing he’d have to dominate, dictate play and truly assert himself against the talented baseline counter-puncher. Mission accomplished. Nadal was flawless.

The two saved the best for last. Down 0-40, 2-5 in the third, Kuznetsov erased three match points…impressive in itself. Not to be outdone, at deuce, Rafa “pulled a Monfils” and successfully exectuted a tweener-lob. Even though he dropped his racquet, Rafa managed to grip it just in time to deliver the winning blow; then finished the match with an unreturnable serve. He’ll face Lucas Pouille in the Round of 16. They’ve played once before, a year ago in Monte Carlo. Nadal won that match in straight-sets.

[2] Angelique Kerber (GER) def CiCi Bellis (USA)

Final 6-1, 6-1. Two-years-ago, at just 15-years-old, Cici Bellis won a spot in the US Open’s main-draw after winning the USTA Girls 18’s National Championship. She defeated Dominika Cibulkova in the First Round, becoming the youngest American to win a match at the US Open in nearly 30-years. Now 17-years-old, at this year’s Open she played through qualifying, then upset Viktorija Golubic and Shelby Rogers to reach the 3rd-Round of a Grand Slam for the first time. Impressive stuff. She now has to decide whether to keep the $140,000 she earned this year in Flushing and turn pro, or forego the cash and play collegiate tennis at Stanford. She may have a few sleepless nights ahead of her…

Angelique Kerber is the #2 player in the world. She’s been in Bellis’ shoes. As a teenager in 2007, she faced Serena Williams in the opening round of the US Open – her first match ever on Arthur Ashe Stadium. She fell in straights, but made it competitive: 3-6, 5-7.

On Friday night, Cici Bellis didn’t have any answers for the Australian Open champ and Wimbledon finalist. While Cici held her first service game of the match, she wouldn’t win another game until late in the second. Down 0-5, Kerber serving for the match, Cici stepped-in, ripped returns and kept the match alive. But that was it. She went 1-5 on her serve, falling 1-6, 1-6 in 55-minutes. Cici after the match: “I think today was the best experience I’ve ever had in tennis. Her groundstrokes are perfect. I hope to one day be able to play like her.”

Up next for Angelique: Petra Kvitova. They’ve played 8-times before, and they’re all even at 4-wins a piece. Kerber’s won their last two matches…earlier this year in the Stuttgart Semifinals (where Angelique won her 9th career WTA title) and last October in Round-1 of the WTA Finals in Singapore.

  • [26] Jack Sock (USA) def [7] Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. I’ll be damned. I thought Jack’s 5-set Davis Cup win over Cilic was huge two months ago. Click here for a recap of Day-1 – Davis Cup Portland. Here’s proof that it wasn’t a fluke. The two-time Olympic medalist dominated the 2014 US Open Champion, winning in straight-sets to reach the 4th-Round.
  • Kyle Edmund (GBR) def [20] John Isner (USA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(5). Though he reached his 21st career final in Atlanta, this has not been the best of Summer’s for the top-ranked American (for now).
  • Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) def [12] Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Dominikia has played her 9-times, she’s only made it past the 3rd-Round once, with a Quarterfinal run in 2010. Last year, in her 6th US Open, Lesia Tsurenko finally made it past the First Round, upsetting World #6 Lucie Safarova. On Sunday, she’ll compete in teh 4th-Round of a Grand Slam for the first time.