Naomi Osaka took to the court wearing a mask bearing the name of the man who inspired her to start talking about racial injustice, and in quiet deference to George Floyd’s memory, recorded perhaps her best performance at the US Open so far.
Struggling with an injured hamstring, and pushed to three sets in two of her opening three matches, Osaka has constantly spoken about ‘feeling better’ and ‘improving’ as the tournament progressed. By the looks of it, her performance against the American Shelby Rogers — a surprise quarterfinalist herself — shows that she is getting close to her best, as the business stage of the tournament gets underway.
Osaka was pushed hard in the match though, with Rogers being massively competitive in an encounter decided on brief moments and measured in centimetres.
“I feel pretty good,” Osaka said afterwards. “I think all of the matches were really tough. The scoreline might not suggest it but I’ve had a couple of really hard matches. I think that made me really glad to be in this position right now.”
The win takes Osaka to her third Grand Slam semifinal, a reminder of her relative youth on this stage, and also how she has capitalised on opportunities when she has got them. In her two previous forays past the fourth round of a Grand Slam — at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open — she won the title.
Her next opponent, though, is quite easily the most improved player over the past year on tour and her task will not be simplified by the added pressure that comes with knowing that she, of the two, is the more experienced.
Brady in First Slam Semis
When the US Open kicked off, everyone knew change was coming. But no one expected it to be so drastic. The American women — a stacked talent pool that must cause headaches when selecting Fed Cup teams — were definitely going to feature in the latter stages of the tournament, but the fact Brady would be among them, would not have been a conclusion many reached.
Which is unfair, because since the restart, Brady’s performances have been soaring with every match. She won the WTA title in Lexington without dropping a set last month, and despite a first round exit at the Western & Southern Open, her run in the first five rounds of the US Open has been a simple, brutal continuation of that superb form.
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She has not dropped a set at the Grand Slam yet, and boasts of a superb all round game, with no real weaknesses to be exploited. Her decision to move away from the US, to Germany, and realign her tennis goals is as admirable as it is novel for American tennis.
Before her steady rise this year — where she has in fact aso recorded wins over World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, No. 5 Elina Svitolina and the now retired Maria Sharapova — her career high ranking was 55. That is bound to rise hugely. Her way to the top is also indicative of how not all women’s tennis players burst through as young teenagers. Sometimes patient application and realignment also works dividends.
She will be up against one of the tournament favourites in Osaka in the semifinal, but the truth is it is her who is really the dark horse of the tournament, totally capable of winning it on merit.
Carreno Busta Downs Shapovalov
Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain defeated Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in a rollercoaster five-setter to reach the semifinals. The 20th seed overcame his 12th-seeded opponent 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-3 in four hours and eight minutes to book a place in the semifinals against Alexander Zverev of Germany.
“I’m destroyed, but I’m very, very happy after this fight, this battle,” Carreno Busta, a US Open semi-finalist in 2017 said, admitting it was “incredible” to be back in the last-four again after working “very, very hard” with his coach during the quarantine shutdown.
As much as Carreno Busta’s win was built on hard work, he did also enjoy his fair share of luck — a fact he admitted — with Shapovalov undone by ill timed double faults and shots through the match.
Shapovalov was also his own worst enemy, recording a whopping 77 unforced errors to the Spaniard’s 42, and yet after losing those two tiebreaks — those two sets contributing to over 77 minutes of the total match — came back strongly to bagel Carreno Busta in the fourth.
At that time the Spaniard seemed to be done, and it seemed the youngster did not have enough fire in his legs to cross the line. After a medical timeout though Carreno Busta surged back, breaking the Canadian twice in the final set to record a famous victory.
The Highs of Sascha Zverev
It is trademark Sascha Zeverev this, to almost blow a match he was expected to win, before surging a comeback and winning it anyway. In a topsy-turvy performance, marked by a very slow start, Alexander Zverev beat Borna Coric 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-3 to reach his maiden US Open semifinal.
This is supposed to be the Grand Slam that provides an opportunity for all the young pretenders to step up and grab the throne, and of all of them Zverev has been the most talented and temperamental — one of the youngest players in the top 10, who also suffered one full year in the wilderness in 2019. Having gone down 1-6 in the first set and down 2-4 in the second, it was his talent that saw him through against Coric.
“I just started playing a little bit more aggressive,” he said of how he recovered from a sluggish start. “It was not the level for a quarter-final of a grand slam. I was down 1-6, 2-4, nothing to lose.”
Coric and Zverev share a lot of history at the US Open. In 2017, the Croat beat Zverev in the second round. In 2013, they faced each other in boy’s championship and Coric beat him 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 enroute to winning the title. This encounter on this big stage must have seemed a lot like that first one — devoid of crowd noise and flashing lights, but delivering in intensity and the need to fulfill a destiny.
It is Zverev who is on the brink now, in only the second Grand Slam semi final of a revived career. He faces Carreno Busta next.
Hantuchova on Djokovic’s Anger Issues
Former World No.5 Daniela Hantuchova, a close friend of Djokovic, his wife Jelena and coach Marian Vajda, has opened up on the World No. 1’s issues with anger that may have led to the outburst at the US Open and the default earlier this week.
Speaking on Amazon Prime’s broadcast, Hantuchova spoke candidly and eloquently about Djokovic’s tendency to not deal with issues and see them manifest in angered actions.
“It feels like sometimes the anger comes out of control,” Hantuchova said. “I care so much about him and respect everything he is doing for our game, but I just hope there is a lesson to be learned, even if this one came at the worst possible time, where pretty much the only thing standing between him and an 18th grand slam title was himself, with all my respect to the other players.”
Hantuchova was also critical of Djokovic’s ill fated Adria Tour, and his desire to start a breakaway player’s union and admitted that while the ideas may have come from a good place, the timing is highly questionable.
“So many times he has the right intentions, it’s just with the timing he’s not getting it right, like the Adria Tour,” she said. “There’s no problem with running an exhibition tour like that, just not when the whole world stops. Same with the ATP stuff. Sure things need to change, but not right now.”
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