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Three to See, US Open Day 10: Familiar matchups in Rublev-Tiafoe, Pegula-Swiatek & Alcaraz-Sinner
Can the home crowd help propel either American into a breakthrough major semifinal on Wednesday?
Published Sep 07, 2022
Andrey Rublev vs. Frances Tiafoe
“It’s going to be a wild one, if last year is any indication,” Tiafoe said of his quarterfinal with Rublev.
He’s not wrong. Twelve months ago, these two met in a third-round night match, and Tiafoe worked the Ashe crowd, and himself, into something close to a frenzy over five sets. He also bounced back after blowing a fourth set lead to run away with the fifth 6-1. Then he took off his shirt and flexed for a while.
They’ve played once since, in Indian Wells, and Rublev turned the tables in straight sets. But this one is a whole different kettle of fish. As Tiafoe says, there’s “a lot more at stake” for these two 24-year-olds. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal. For Rublev, it’s a matter of finally breaking down what has become a barrier for him; so far he’s 0-5 in major quarterfinals. For Tiafoe, it’s a matter of breaking through for himself and his country; if he wins, he’ll be the first American man to make the semis at the Open since Robbie Ginepri did it in 2005.
If they played in a vacuum, you’d probably pick Rublev to win three out of five times. But they won’t be in a vacuum on Wednesday afternoon. Anything but. Both players mentioned the influence of the fans in Ashe, and Tiafoe’s ability to use them to his advantage.
“I’m going to have the crowd with me,” Tiafoe says, “it makes a big difference.”
“For sure he will try to use the energy, the crowd to be more pumped, to play better tennis,” Rublev said of Tiafoe. “I just, with him, I need to wait for my moment and use it.”
Will Tiafoe have any kind of letdown after beating Rafael Nadal? Will Rublev be able to maintain his composure by himself in a sea of 23,000? Tiafoe will have to make more than 50 percent of his first serves, which was his percentage against Nadal. But I’ll say the American will roll on for one more round. Winner: Tiafoe
Iga Swiatek vs. Jessica Pegula
Swiatek and Pegula have already played two significant matches in 2022, a semifinal in Miami and a quarterfinal at Roland Garros. Swiatek won them both in straight sets, and annoyed the American by slowing down play and disrupting her rhythm.
If Pegula is looking for a silver lining in their record, she can point to her win over Swiatek on hard courts at the Citi Open in 2019. She can also point to the fact that Swiatek isn’t quite the unstoppable force she was when they met earlier this year. In her last match, the world No. 1 was pushed around for a set by Jule Niemeier before taking control in the third.
“I think maybe I would take some more chances this time playing her,” Pegula says of facing Swiatek. “Especially playing her on a maybe quicker hard court than last time playing her on clay.”
As for Pegula herself, she has mostly been on cruise control here. The only hiccup came when she lost a tiebreaker to Yue Yuan in the third round. On Monday, she mostly stayed steady and let Petra Kvitova implode. Swiatek expects to see more of that steadiness.
“She’s really consistent,” Swiatek says of Pegula. “She’s just a good player and she’s really solid.”
All of which makes it seem as if this match will be on Swiatek’s racquet. She can create more winners, and also more errors, than Pegula. I’m going to say that her comeback against Niemeier will give her the confidence that she can do it again if things don’t go as planned early on. Winner: Swiatek
Carlos Alcaraz vs. Jannik Sinner
These two friends and fellow Next Next Gen members—Alcaraz is 19, Sinner 21—have met three times at the ATP level.
Alcaraz won their first match, in two close sets, on indoor hard courts in Paris last fall. That was during the Spaniard’s meteoric rise up the rankings, a period that would last until the following May, when he beat Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Alexander Zverev to win his second Masters 1000 title in Madrid. For the previous two years, Sinner had been the most praised and anticipated player of his age cohort, but Alcaraz blew right past him.
For a while, anyway. Tennis careers are marathons, and Sinner has caught up since. He beat Alcaraz in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in four sets. More surprisingly, he was able to do the same thing on clay in the Umag final a couple weeks later. Sinner ran away with the last two sets of that one, 6-1, 6-1. So while Alcaraz is ranked nine spots higher than Sinner (No. 4 to No. 13), Sinner may have an edge mentally, and in terms of their specific matchup.
For all of their talent, both of these guys are still young and could still use some polishing when it comes to match play. Sinner is starting to remind me of Kei Nishikori in the way he seems to enjoy taking the longest possible path to victory; he has won two five-setters and a four-setter in New York. Alcaraz, meanwhile, has struggled in big moments and matches since May, and has a tendency to overhit.
They’ll (probably) figure it out. For now, in this nightcap in Ashe, it should be enough to see Sinner’s flat power go up against Alcaraz’s topspin and blazing speed, in a match that seems destined to cross the three-hour mark. Winner: Sinner