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US Open quarterfinal previews: Can Harris halt Zverev's win streak? Can Berrettini finally overcome Djokovic?
Plus: Karolina Pliskova and Maria Sakkari open the night session.
Published Sep 08, 2021
Emma Raducanu vs. Belinda Bencic
These two women are on major rolls. The unseeded, 18-year-old Raducanu hasn’t dropped a set in her first four matches, and she’s dropped just four games in her last two rounds. Bencic is still walking on air after winning Olympic gold in Tokyo; she also hasn’t dropped a set in four matches, and in the third round she avenged a defeat to ninth-seeded Iga Swiatek from earlier in the season. Which of them will keep rolling into the semis?
Raducanu has been playing a very solid brand of baseline tennis. She grabs the initiative in rallies, she moves her opponents from side to to side and takes away their time, all without trying to hit a lot of risky winners. Bencic has been doing much the same, especially from the backhand side. Raducanu hits a little more safely, while Bencic hits a little flatter, which may give her an advantage on these fairly quick hard courts. But Raducanu is the better mover. As far as their confidence levels go, neither could get much higher.
Alexander Zverev vs. Lloyd Harris
The fourth-ranked German and the 46th-ranked South African have played twice, on hard courts, and Zverev has won in relatively routine fashion both times. Judging by Zverev’s form at the Open so far, there’s no reason to think that result will change here. He has dropped one set in four matches, and he took care of Jannik Sinner in straights in the fourth round.
But judging by Harris’ form in his last two matches, this one promises to a tougher test for Zverev. Harris beat seventh-seeded Denis Shapovalov in three sets in the third round, and he hit 62 winners, including 36 aces, against just 16 unforced errors in a four-set win over Reilly Opelka on Monday. Zverev has won 15 straight matches, and he’s surely thinking about a possible semifinal clash with Novak Djokovic, which could make this a proverbial trap match. If Harris starts at the level he finished against Opelka, he’ll have Zverev’s attention very quickly.
Karolina Pliskova vs. Maria Sakkari
Like the earlier women’s quarterfinal, this one pits two players who seem to be at the peaks of their powers against each other. Since the start of Wimbledon, where she made the final, Pliskova has been playing with more ambition than has been the norm for her in the past. She seems determined to give a Grand Slam title run everything she has, and right now she may be the odds-on favorite to win her first. Sakkari’s results had been fairly middling since Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals, but she has lifted her level sky-high in her wins over Petra Kvitova and especially Bianca Andreescu in the fourth round.
The Czech and the Greek have split two matches, each of which happened on clay in Rome. In New York, Sakkari has been using the speed of the Open’s hard courts to fire missile-like winners from her forehand side. But Pliskova may hold the trump card with her serve.
Novak Djokovic vs. Matteo Berrettini
“Hammer tennis,” is how Djokovic describes Berrettini’s playing style, and that’s as good a description as any. The Italian doesn’t mess around with the finesse that many of the tennis fans in his home country hold dear. The style has worked well enough to get him to the Wimbledon final, and the quarters at the Open. It has also been enough to push Djokovic to four sets at each of the last two majors, but it has never earned him a win over the world No. 1.
The faster courts should help Berrettini, but playing at night, when the conditions are “slow and dead,” as Ash Barty described them, won’t. At this stage, three wins from the Grand Slam, Djokovic isn’t going to go down without the fight of all fights. That’s usually enough for him.