We discuss Sharapova’s survival, Roddick’s farewell, and Berdych’s breakthrough among the other headlines on an exciting Day 10.
Sharapova d. Bartoli: For the second straight round, the WTA’s glamor girl advanced in a three-setter more gritty than pretty. Trailing 4-0 before a fortuitous rain delay yesterday, Sharapova could not salvage the first set but managed to win the last three games in both the second and third sets. Her killer instincts surfaced when she served out the second set at love after earning the decisive break and when she refused to let Bartoli escape a multiple-deuce game at 4-4 in the final set. In another illustration of steeliness, she conceded only four of the sixteen break points that she faced against a lethal returner. Littering the scoreboard in every category, Sharapova reached double digits in both aces (10) and double faults (11) while pounding out 44 winners to her opponent’s 18 and spraying 35 unforced errors to her opponent’s 25. Into her third major semifinal of the year, she will finish 2012 with the greatest number of victories at majors that she ever has recorded in a single season. That said, her fortnight will end in the next round unless she can raise her level significantly against a rival who has trampled her lately on hard courts. And Bartoli will add her voice to the multitudes pleading for a roof on Arthur Ashe.
Del Potro d. Roddick: For the first two sets of this rain-interrupted clash, Roddick likely sensed that he could conclude his career with a glorious upset. When play resumed on Wednesday near the start of the first-set tiebreak, he reeled off six of the next seven points to ambush a languid Del Potro. Throughout a second set that ended in another tiebreak, neither man faced a break point on serve, a dynamic that would seem to favor the home hope. Bold returns by the Argentine allowed him to level the match at that stage, however, and Roddick never would threaten him seriously again. Once he fell behind by two breaks immediately in the third set, the rest of the match acquired a nostalgic glow as New York fans said a long goodbye to the 2003 champion, the last American man to win a major. To his credit, Del Potro did not allow the unusual atmosphere to unnerve him, continuing to cruise through service games. He faced just two break points after the first set, saving both, and did not flinch when the crowd rose to its feet to support their hero near the end. Impervious to the occasion, Del Potro served out the match at love with crisp groundstrokes before embracing Roddick at the net and gesturing for applause to the crowd, which needed little encouragement. Few conquerors would have shown their victim more respect than the gentle Argentine.
Errani d. Vinci: Featuring two doubles partners and close friends, this match never quite radiated the heat of competition despite the high stakes. A relatively routine victory for Errani moved her into her second semifinal of 2012, a year in which she has won as many matches at majors as did Kvitova. After it ended, both Italians likely will feel relieved to resume their normal relationship as facilitators of each other’s talents. For Errani, a towering challenge awaits against a relentless Serena, whose return should devastate her serve with ease. For Vinci, a first career quarterfinal at a major offers cause for celebration, no doubt with the woman who defeated her.
Djokovic d. Wawrinka: Ever an enigmatic competitor, the Swiss #2 retired for unclear reasons as a rout neared its conclusion. As expected, the match stayed somewhat intriguing in a first set decided by a single break in the tenth game. Wawrinka in fact managed to regain the initial service break that Djokovic had snatched from him before play ended on Tuesday. Consistent rather than spectacular, the defending champion finished with a modest +3 differential in winners/errors while his victim finished with an ugly -15. Sweeping 11 of the last 13 games, Djokovic reaches a marquee quarterfinal with Del Potro without having lost a set in the tournament and spending as little time on court as he reasonably could have expected.
Murray d. Cilic: Midway through the second set, the gold medalist looked destined for his second straight-sets loss to the Croat in his last four US Open appearances. Exuding lethargy and negative body language, Murray fell behind by a set and a break to an opponent alert in capitalizing on every opportunity offered. Two points from the second set in three different games, including two on his serve, Cilic let the third seed escape as he slipped into passivity. He again took a lead in the second-set tiebreak over a moping, seemingly resigned Murray, only to drop five straight points to complete the astonishing choke. From there, the underdog understandably crumbled under the weight of his disappointment, winning just two games in the last two sets and failing to muster even sufficient pride to avoid a fourth-set bagel. An odd encounter from start to finish, this quarterfinal featured two men of considerable talents who failed to showcased those talents at the same time, except towards the end of the second set. During a short span of four or five games, Murray’s counterpunching provided the ideal contrast to the still confident Cilic’s efforts to create angles and open the court.
Serena d. Ivanovic: A cheerful, tranquil match that flowed smoothly to its foregone conclusion, this quarterfinal produced only a few moments of note. Among them was Serena’s burst of intensity when she faced break point as she served for the set at 5-1. Although a loss of serve likely would not have derailed her for long, the Wimbledon champion raced around the court to track down a series of crisp volleys and celebrated with a fist pump. That level of ferocity on a relatively inconsequential point should cast fear into her three fellow semifinalists. Across the net, Ivanovic waited patiently for the rare opportunity to showcase her stylish brand of tennis. She delivered several impressive passing shots and running forehands, improving as the match progressed. But her signature moment from the night came when she applauded a successful lob by Serena that resulted in a match point. Recognizing the quality of her opposition, Ivanovic displayed the classy sportsmanship often lacking among her peers.
Berdych d. Federer: Ten minutes into his first career match in an Ashe night session, the Czech tottered close to a double-break deficit. Four impressive sets later, he had claimed his second victory over Federer at a major in a four-set quarterfinal that recalled their match at Wimbledon two years ago. Outside the ominous start and a five-game span in the third set, Berdych outplayed the top seed from the baseline with superior weight and depth as well as consistency. Able to prevent Federer from moving inside the court often, he revealed a greater ability to strike clean groundstroke winners to finish points more easily. Having lost to the Swiss after winning the first two sets at the Australian Open three years ago, Berdych understandably grew tense as the five-time champion mounted his last stand. A comeback temporarily looked possible, but the Czech snuffed out any such hope in a fourth set during which he never faced a break point. Like his compatriot Rosol at Wimbledon against Nadal, Berdych finished the match with a love hold punctuated by three successive service winners. On a day when Murray nearly fell to Cilic, the demise of Federer clearly identifies Djokovic as the title favorite, although his quarterfinal against Del Potro will merit attention.