Day-6. 2016 US Open

Day-6 on Ashe started with center court’s best match of the tournament so far. Simona Halep pulled it out, but Timea Babos gave her a run for her money. Halep owned set-1, Babos set-2, while set-3 was high-drama. The decider was packed with punishing rallies and exhausting deuce battles; yet sadly, it all ended with a whimper, as Babos double-faulted on match point.

Venus and Serena advanced with little trouble. Andy Murray reached the Round of 16, but struggled with Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi. And Nick Kyrgios, who’s been dealing with a hip injury this week in Flushing, had to throw in the towel during the night-cap in Ashe.

Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko advanced to the 4th-Round of a Major for the first-time…something many may have seen coming, if they’d seen his determined play week-one of the season in Doha…Check out my post match interview with Illya in Doha back in January, after he scored his first top-10 win over defending champion David Ferrer.

[5] Simona Halep (ROU) def [31] Timea Babos (HUN)

Final 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Simona Halep absolutely dominated set-1 on Saturday. After straight-sets wins over Kirsten Flipkens and Lucie Safarova in Rounds 1 and 2; by all appearances, Saturday was to be another quick afternoon for the 2014 French Open Finalist on Arthur Ashe Stadium. However…

In set-2, Timea Babos broke before the first sit-down, outlasted Halep through an exhausting deuce-battle in game-5; then ran away with the set, leveling the match. Momentum had shifted. Timea was in Halep’s head; clearly the aggressor, pounding balls to both wings.
Babos broke the World #5 again in game-1 off the decider, then fought back from a 15-40 deficit to consolidate. She was jacked. Simona was playing top-notch tennis – throwing everything she could at the Hungarian – but Babos was simply a cut above; seeing the ball like a watermelon, chasing down every punishing Halep ground stroke. But wait, hold the phone…

Down 2-3, Simona dug-deep, endured several extended rallies and finally scored her first break since set-1. Momentum shifted again. Simona held to snag her first lead since the opener. The two continued the baseline beat-down, ripping backhands back-and-forth. Down 3-4, Babos was up 30-0. Halep won the next three points and was on the verge of serving for the match. Timea took it to deuce, overcame several break points and improbably leveled the set at 4-all.

Needless to say, this was a hell of match. Simona held to maintain the lead, then squeeked-through to the Round of 16 with a heart-breaking collapse from Babos. Timea was up 40-15, serving to stay in it. Two unforced errors took it to deuce, a third gave Halep the ad, and a double-fault handed Simona the match. Painful.

Undoubtedly, this was the best match Arthur Ashe Stadium has seen at the 2016 US Open. Sadly, the grueling, high-level slug-fest ended with a whimper. Timea Babos has nothing to hang her head over. She battled today and proved to herself that she’s back to being a fighter. With more matches like this under her belt, experience will mute those deciding-set nerves.

[1] Serena Williams (USA) def Johanna Larsson (SWE)

Final 6-2, 6-1. Once upon a time, Johanna Larsson played Serena Williams in a Final. It’s true. It happened in Bastad three years ago. On Saturday, she faced the 22-time Grand Slam champ for the third time. It went as expected. Johanna does have this going for her: Down 1-3 in the first set, she forced Serena to face her first break point of the tournament. That went as expected, too. Serena Willliams has now won 307 Grand Slam matches, surpassing Martina Navratilova and tying Roger Federer’s current record.

[2] Andy Murray (GBR) def Paolo Lorenzzi (ITA)

Final 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. Remarkably, at 4-all in the first, Paolo Lorenzi broke Andy Murray and gave himself a chance to earn set-1 on his own racquet. Didn’t pan-out…but hey, it happened. Andy broke right back and the two took the opener to a tie-break. In the first four points, neither could hold. Andy took a 4-2 lead to the change of ends. Five points later, Murray was one set closer to his 9th career US Open Round of 16 appearance.

After trading breaks to start the second, Lorenzi jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Murray removed his hat and got to work, winning the next three games to level it at 5-all. At 6-5 Lorenzi, Murray down 0-15, the two may have played the point of the tournament…packed with drop-shots, desperate-lobs and ridiculous hustle. In a blink, Andy was down 15-40, then lost the set on an exhausted forehand long. The match was now a best-of-three.

Andy started set-3 with a break. Lorenzi broke back before the changeover, then received a medical timeout to retape his fingers. It didn’t help – Murray ran away with the set 6-2. It was deja vu in the fourth, with Murray up a break at the first sit-down. At 5-3, Lorenzi serving to stay in the match, Andy earned match-point #1 on a Lorenzi double fault, then won it on match point #2. The 2012 US Open Champ gets Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) next. They’ve played nine times since 2011. Andy’s won six of those matches. Dimitrov won their most-recent match earlier this year in Miami’s 3rd Round.

[6] Venus Williams (USA) def [26] Laura Siegemund (GER)

Final 6-1, 6-1. Venus started strong Saturday night and shot ahead 2-0. Siegemund battled in game-3, broke back, and after 14-minutes of play, we were on serve in the first…turns out, that break would be the only game Siegemund would earn in set-1. In the second, Venus leapt ahead again. Down two-breaks (1-4), Siegemund earned her second break of the match, but couldn’t hold to close the gap. Venus won it in 78-minutes.

Illya Marchenko (UKR) def [14] Nick Kyrgios (AUS)

Final 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, RET. Nick Kyrgios spent a good chunk of the first set pounding aces on Ashe, and scored an early break before the first changeover. Unintimidated, Marchenko battled to get back on serve; but fell behind 15-40 serving to stay in the set. While Illya erased the first set-point, Kyrgios smashed an unreturnable forehand to claim the lead.

In the second, Nick’s inconsistency earned Marchenko a timely break to go-up 5-4. Serving for the set, Illya jumped ahead 30-0, then watched Kyrgios hammer blistering forehand after blistering forehand. Suddenly it was 30-40. I’m still not sure what happened next…it’s like someone flipped a switch. After rocketing three straight unreturnable winners, Nick was conservative…tentative. Three points later we were level at a set a piece – and Nick was on his back receiving treatment on his right hip.

After an extended medical time-out off the court, we launched into set-3. Kyrgios held to open, but was clearly hurting. From my perspective, serveral stories up – it looked like he was ready to retire after nearly every point. Marchenko won the next 6-games, Kyrgios simply unable to chase down balls.

After an hour and 55-minutes, Nick was done. Game. Set. Match. Marchenko…into the 4th Round of a Grand Slam for the first time. In the post match interview, Tom Rinaldi reminded Illya that he was now into the Round of 16. Illya’s response: “Oh yeah! It’s the Round of 16. Oh my God! Round of 16!”

  • Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) def [11] David Ferrer (ESP) 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-3. This is no longer a comeback. With wins over Djokovic and Nadal in Rio and Wawrinka at Wimbledon, he’s a top-5 player with a meaningless ranking.
  • [3] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) def Daniel Evans (GBR) 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(8), 6-2. Hell of an effort from Evans to take the World #3 to five-sets in Round-3. British tennis “done real good” week-one in Flushing.
  • [21] Ivo Karlovic (CRO) def Jared Donaldson (USA) 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-3. Banner week for Jared – Round-3 after playing through qualifying. His career best Grand Slam showing. At 37, Ivo is now the oldest man to reach the US Open Round of 16 since Jimmy Connors in ’91. It is also the first time he’s seen week-2 here in Flushing…in his 13th US Open.