By Matthew McGladrigan
And then there were eight. Some you could have penciled in months ago. A couple you may have backed to make the cut beforehand and then there’s an old face defying the odds to get himself in the mix. Eight Europeans. No home favorites there (of course). Not even Roger Federer could use the American crowd to his advantage last night. In the city that never sleeps, four tasty men’s quarter final contests await us.
The first last-eight clash to take place will be between a gritty and grinding Spaniard, who is overlooked by so many, and a Frenchman who perennially gets taken out in the fourth round of Grand Slams. Fourth seed David Ferrer has reached the quarter finals or better at the last eight majors (two calendar years’ worth), adding his name to the legendary group of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Lendl as the only players to have done that in the Open Era. He has struggled over the past few weeks, with early exits in Montreal and Cincinnati, and has really had to use all of the fighting qualities he possesses at Flushing Meadows, particularly against Janko Tipsarevic in the previous round. He might not know how to beat the very best players currently on the biggest stage, but he certainly has the confidence to prevail over the rest of the field.
Richard Gasquet will be on the other side of the Arthur Ashe court to the Spaniard come Wednesday afternoon in New York. Surprisingly, despite the Frenchman always seeming to be there or thereabouts in the different tournament draws, this is only the second time that he’s made the last eight of a Grand Slam. He’ll be desperately hoping that this run doesn’t stop there, as being matched with Ferrer (as opposed to the big three) presents a great opportunity to advance to the semi-finals. The question that exists for the world number nine though is: can he keep with Ferrer in the lengthy baseline duels? The head-to-head record asserts that he hasn’t been able to previously (9-1 in favour of the fourth seed). However, the previously rather mentally limp ‘Reechar’ (as le français would say) seems to have discovered some inner steel, outlasting colossal Canadian Milos Raonic in five sets in round four in a fascinating match. The relentless Spaniard still remains the favourite to reach his second straight semi-final in the Big Apple though.
The next pairing, scheduled for the Wednesday night session, is a couple of Spaniards (not a bad week for them so far); one of them we didn’t expect to make it this far and the other one we expect to be eating a chunk out of the trophy come the end of the week. Tommy Robredo stunned five-time champion Roger Federer on Louis Armstrong Stadium in straight sets to book a tie with another former champion in Rafael Nadal. (Look on the bright side, Tommy, if you somehow get through this one, things may get a little easier for the semi-final). Robredo has shown bottle of the highest order this season, coming from two sets to love down in about twenty matches at the French Open (actually three) and holding off British qualifier Dan Evans’ sensational run in another high-profile win (in Britain). He goes into his clash with Rafa never having beaten him. The same was also true before his match with the 17-time Grand Slam champion though.
The King of Clay is proving himself to be not too shabby on a hard court this season too. Since his shock opening round loss at Wimbledon, Nadal hasn’t lost a match, winning the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati Masters in the process. There’s no doubt that he now has a favourable draw and a spot in the final is very nearly as certain as him winning at Roland Garros every single year. He’s playing aggressively; he’s clearly confident in his fitness again; it’s fair to say this isn’t the ‘end’ of him, as some were predicting after his defeat to Steve Darcis. The year-end number one spot is looking extremely likely for the Spanish warrior.
Moving on then, the third quarter final features another more surprising act in Russian Mikhail Youzhny. The 21st seed downed Lleyton Hewitt in an absorbing five-set match, where the Australian had served for the match in the deciding set. Youzhny is a player that I’ve seen play quite a lot this summer; by chance, I watched both his third round (against Viktor Troicki) and fourth round (against Andy Murray) matches live at Wimbledon. As well as the renowned fiery temper and occasional steam train-like noises during points, the Russian possesses a powerful one-handed backhand, which was excellent against the former world number one in the fourth round. Youzhny has had some previous success under the lights of New York, reaching the last four on two occasions (2006 and 2010). But he has struggled in recent years, not getting out of the first round the past two tournaments. He’s played some great tennis this week though and had a good win over Tommy Haas before the one over Hewitt. However, what can he do to stop the man he’ll be up against?
World number one Novak Djokovic has been in imperious form throughout the championships and absolutely crushed a weary Marcel Granollers in their fourth round encounter (the Spaniard winning just a mere three games). Then the Serbian saw his next opponent being pushed into a high-octane five-setter, making his day even better. When a top player’s opponents in the first few rounds of a Grand Slam are so far distant from their level it’s always difficult to read into how they’ll play further on in the tournament. The Serbian hasn’t had much of a test yet, except a minor one in the opening set against Benjamin Becker. You almost want the Grand Slams to just skip to the quarter finals so we can watch the thrilling and unpredictable matches from the beginning of the event.
This particular quarter final, though, won’t be unpredictable. Djokovic should breeze past the Russian, who is a favourable draw seeing as Juan Martin Del Potro was supposed to be in this spot. Youzhny just doesn’t have the ability to get the Australian Open champion out of position enough. Djokovic has been desperate to add more Grand Slams to his name in 2013 but the aura has gone; he’s lost the big matches. He was edged out by Rafa in Paris and swatted away by Murray in the Wimbledon final. He’ll be desperate to get the better of those two (both of who he probably will have to beat to win the title) and prove that he’s the world number one for a reason.
Finally, the last two to book their quarter final spaces were the defending champion and a man from Switzerland (no, not that one, there are other Swiss tennis players). Wimbledon holder Andy Murray reached his 11th straight Grand Slam quarter final with a hard-fought win over the puzzling Denis Istomin in round four. Murray has had a few blips en route but is still looking like the same confident player that lifted that famous trophy on Centre Court in July, to the delight of the British crowd. His construction of points and returning are second to none at the moment.
The Scot’s opponent is the Swiss number two (maybe number one soon) Stanislas Wawrinka. The ninth seed has shown a real resurgence in 2013: pushing Djokovic all the way Down Under, winning the Portugal Open, reaching the final in Madrid and getting back into the top ten. Now he has upset power-house Tomas Berdych in their high quality fourth round meeting and will certainly pose the defending champion some questions. He’s a solid all-round player now: confident at the net and on either wing off the ground. The Scot and Swiss have played once in 2013, where Wawrinka handed Murray out a drubbing in Monte Carlo. Their overall record is 8-4 in the third seed’s favour. So Stan has proved that he can beat Andy and, to stand a chance, he has to go out there believing that he can do it at this top level. Murray is extremely tough to break down though in five-set matches and is much stronger mentally since Ivan Lendl was brought into the fold. It should be a tight, exciting contest but at the big moments, the champion will pull through.
The world number three will certainly have to do it the hard way to retain his trophy. Beat Wawrinka and it’s most likely a rematch of last year’s final with Nole. After that Nadal is almost already penciled into the final. A Murray-Nadal final would be intriguing, partially because they haven’t played each other for so long. Incredibly, two of the world’s best haven’t matched up since October 2011. Also, traditionally Murray has had his success over the forehand-spinning Spaniard on this surface. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Just the matter of four quarter finals and two last four encounters before we get to that final showdown.
So, there we have the four men’s quarter finals, to be held on the minuscule-looking tennis court surrounded by the great theatre that is Arthur Ashe’s arena. Let’s hope they’re all competitive encounters as there were more bagels at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday than in the local New York cafés. It’s the world number one against the passionate Russian; the Spanish wall takes on the flashy Frenchman; Rafa versus Robredo and finally, the US Open, Wimbledon and Olympic Champion does battle with Stan.
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