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Scenes from Queens, Day 6: Tiafoe, Rublev feel the roars; Nadal and Tomljanovic pack the house, for practice; Kvitova edges Muguruza
Our running, on-the-grounds recap from Flushing Meadows.
Published Sep 03, 2022
WATCH: Tennis Channel Live previews Day 6 at the 2022 US Open.
Tiafoe and the new(ish) Armstrong Stadium were made for each other
NEW YORK—After drilling an ace on match point to beat Diego Schwartzman, Frances Tiafoe pulled another ball out of his pocket and drilled it into the crowd…where it flew a little too close to a group of spectators for comfort. Tiafoe had to interrupt his celebration to hold his hand up and apologize. But all was well for the American. Beating Schwartzman, a grinder’s grinder, over the course of three hours, and doing it without dropping a set, to make the second week of the US Open, is the definition of a good day’s work for him.
“It was an absolute battle,” said Tiafoe, who looked close to gassed at certain points. But he was the more efficient player, hitting more winners and making fewer errors than the typically steadier Schwartzman. Tiafoe was also the more clutch player, finding his way through a 9-7 first-set tiebreaker, and finding ways to break near the end of the last two sets.
Afterward, Tiafoe thanked the crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium, and told them he couldn’t have done it without their help. He’s a good fit for that new(ish), which is smaller than Ashe, but also narrower and boxier, which makes it much louder on a per-person basis. Still, the American may be leaving it for the big house next round, when he will likely face Rafael Nadal.—Steve Tignor
Amid dramatic five-setter, moments of mental calm for Rublev
NEW YORK—The sun on Grandstand is absolutely brutal, but no one is moving from their seat. It’s a packed house for this third-round match on Saturday afternoon, as No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev is taken into a fifth set by No.19 Denis Shapovalov in a marathon battle that’s crossed the three-hour mark.
Even keeled, always staying positive—these aren’t words that are commonly associated with Rublev. But they are true for him on this day against the Canadian, and despite the match’s twists and turns, he is looking particularly serene by comparison.
While a big-hitting game has always come naturally for the 24-year-old, the mentality has been more of a steady work in progress for the emotional Rublev. It all seems to be coming together at the right time, galvanized by an early wake-up call:
“Especially after the first round, five sets [against Laslo Djere], almost losing control many times emotionally, I was thinking it was gonna be really really tough,” Rublev told press after the second-round. “I was thinking that if I'm not gonna finally step up and take myself under control, then it will be impossible to win [again] like this, after the first round.
“I thought, like, ‘Not today.’ I don't know. I looked at my team... One of them said 'It's okay' and I was like, it's true. It's okay.”
At 5-4 in the fifth, while Rublev saw three match points come and go on his own serve, he kept his cool. When the overwhelmingly pro-Shapovalov crowd on Grandstand clamored in approval as the Canadian leveled the score at 5-5, Rublev again turned to his team and just held eye contact. During the tiebreak, with Shapovalov equally hyping himself and berating himself just about every point, Rublev gripped his racquet and held his nerve.
Over four nerve-wracking hours later, a Shapovalov forehand finally drifted long to send his opponent into the fourth round, 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (7).
Rublev collapses to the ground and lays with his head in his hands for a long while—a moment of stillness amid the roar on Grandstand. —Stephanie Livaudais
Rafa and Ajla pack the house, for practice
NEW YORK—“Is that her?” a fan watching a woman in a baseball cap hitting on Practice Court 2 asked her friend. When she eventually revealed herself to be Ajla Tomljanovic, the two fans both cried, “It is her.”
Tomljanovic, conqueror of Serena Williams, was enjoying her 15 minutes—which may run quite a while longer—on the practice courts on Saturday. She was hitting a few feet away from Rafael Nadal, but she was holding her own when it came to fan fascination.
The bleachers above these courts were packed; there was a 100-yard line of people waiting to catch a glimpse of a backwards-capped Rafa as he battered balls at his old doubles partner, Marc Lopez.
This is the closest a fan will get to a backstage pass at the Open. Here you can see Rafa tapping on his phone and shaking his head; a grinning Daniil Medvedev high-fiving fellow players; Jelena Ostapenko working on her volleys—and her grunts—and a tunnel-visioned Tomljanovic grinding through an hour of ground strokes.
Serious fans may not want to believe it, but personality has always been a big part of the game’s appeal. Here, in the sport’s backstage, skill and competition mean nothing. Personality, authentic and natural, is all. —Steve Tignor
NEW YORK—Louis Armstrong Stadium manages to be airy and yet overwhelming; cool, but stifling. The open halls sandwiched between its upper and lower levels foster a din that swirls back down to court level, making it feel like an ice rink in the middle of a mall.
For over two and a half hours, Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza played on a court that was far from frozen but just as slippery. The two traded match points only for Kvitova to save her best tennis for the penultimate point of an already-extended 10-point tiebreaker and win, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10).
The women’s field is roundly considered “wide open,” and yet the presence of someone who can hit a forehand like Kvitova should be anything but. Hers has been an evolution not unlike an Olympic figure skater, one who emerges onto the scene all athlete only to embrace more flourishes as youthful consistency ebbs. A survivor, a sentimental favorite, she had the Armstrong crowd behind her.
Muguruza has never been concerned with aesthetics, employing flair-free technique to success that varies wildly week to week, but she seemingly found a vein of form that nearly took her over the finish line on Saturday—taking a 5-2 lead and holding two match points at 6-5.
Kvitova saved both—one with an ace—and saw her own lead evaporate in the Sudden Death before playing the point of the match: trading lefty backhand-to-right forehand rallies until the Czech found a forehand and drilled it up the line like a cleanly-landed triple axel.
The rest was a foregone conclusion and the No. 21 seed won her sixth straight match against the Spaniard, creating further distance in the debate around which one has enjoyed the better career and showing she can not only match the Top 10, but do it in style.—David Kane