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US Open Quarterfinal Previews: Can Taylor Fritz disrupt Novak Djokovic?
Plus, picks for Gauff vs. Ostapenko, Muchova vs. Cirstea and Tiafoe vs. Shelton.
Published Sep 04, 2023
WATCH: Will Taylor Fritz get first win over Novak Djokovic or does Serb move to 8-0 H2H?
Coco Gauff vs. Jelena Ostapenko
The tennis world had been looking forward to another showdown between Gauff and Iga Swiatek. But if Ostapenko is anything like the Ostapenko we saw on Sunday night, this should be a more-than-worthy substitute. The American has been raising her game each week this summer, while the Latvian caught fire in the last round. We know how far she can go at a major when she’s connecting on her ground strokes.
“She’s a striker, ball-striker,” said Gauff, who beat Ostapenko in 2019, but lost to her at the Australian Open this year. “She’s hot or cold, to be honest.”
“Just staying in the match [is key]. I might get some more free points…[But] maybe she'll hit so many winners.”
That’s about the size of it. Virtually any match Ostapenko plays is on her racquet. Most points end either with a screaming winner, or a screaming error, from her. Swiatek basically had no choice other than to give Ostapenko the pace she likes. But Gauff’s speed, patience and variable ground-stroke speeds will give her the chance to be more disruptive. Winner: Gauff
Taylor Fritz vs. Novak Djokovic
“Novak’s Novak,” Fritz said on Sunday. “It’s tough.”
Tough for Fritz in particular: He’s 0-7 against Djokovic.
“There’s no one on tour who has any kind of a record like that against me,” Fritz says.
There have been a couple of moments when Fritz seemed to be closing the gap. He took Djokovic to five sets at the Australian Open in 2021, and to two tiebreakers on indoor hard courts at the ATP Finals in 2022. But the chasm widened again in their last meeting, in Cincinnati in August. Fritz came out pancake-flat and lost 6-0, 6-4 before he ever found any semblance of his game.
US Open quarters would be a pretty good time to get him. Taylor Fritz on Novak Djokovic
One problem, Fritz says, is that he has felt the need to try to play unusually well against Djokovic in the past.
“The toughest thing is just convincing yourself that it’s, like, just play within yourself,” Fritz said. “I need to trust that if I’m playing well, then that’s going to be enough, and I don’t need to kind of do anything extra.”
Someday, Fritz’s game will be enough. He has the serve and the forehand and the ability to play the big points well—against everyone else, anyway. This time he’ll also have a giant day-session crowd in Ashe behind him.
“US Open quarters would be a pretty good time to get him,” Fritz said with a smile.
Fritz will likely guard against coming out flat again, and he should be able to push Djokovic. But the Serb was seriously challenged by Laslo Djere earlier in the week, and he immediately found a response. Fritz has a lot of game; I’m guessing two—but not three—set’s worth against this opponent. Winner: Djokovic
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Karolina Muchova vs. Sorana Cirstea
The night-session opener will be the exception to an all-American Tuesday, and a rare appointment in Ashe for Muchova and Cirstea. The Czech and the Romanian have played three times in 2023, and the higher-ranked Muchova has won two of them, most recently in Montreal in August. But Cirstea did get a win in Miami in the spring.
Muchova will be the favorite. She’s ranked 20 spots higher (No. 10 to No. 30), she’s been to a Grand Slam final this season, she made another final in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and she’s been her usual smooth and imperturbable self so far at the Open. But Cirstea has been in sharp and self-assured form as well, and has the better wins, over Elena Rybakina and Belinda Bencic.
I’m not sure how Cirstea will react to playing in Ashe at night, but Armstrong is pretty big, too, and she hasn’t had any trouble there. Winner: Cirstea
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Frances Tiafoe vs. Ben Shelton
These two have never played on court, but according to Shelton, they’ve become regular opponents in the locker-room trash talk wars.
“There’s not a time that he walks by me in the locker room and doesn’t say something about, ‘Man, I’m looking way better than you in this sleeveless shirt. You got to work on those shoulders, buddy.’”
The competition between them will get a lot more real on Tuesday when they face off in a US Open quarterfinal. Athletically, the match should be a blockbuster, pitting Shelton’s live arm and electric power against Tiafoe’s speed and shot-making mix. Each of these guys can light up an arena, and each will come to put on a show for the night-session crowd in New York.
Will it be competitive? Tiafoe has the edge in experience; he played and won a quarterfinal here last year. He also has the edge when it comes to all-around games. Shelton, it can’t be forgotten, is a tour rookie who struggled to win any matches at all in the middle period of this season. He obviously responds to big stages, but he hasn’t shown that he’s as consistent or as nuanced a baseline player as Tiafoe yet. In his last match, Shelton also got tight at the finish line and gave away a set in the process.
I’ll say what I said before Shelton’s match with Tommy Paul. If he’s making a high percentages of first serves, that shot alone could turn this match in his favor. It worked against Paul, but two straight upsets is a lot to ask of one shot, even when it’s a 145-MPH-plus serve like Shelton’s. Winner: Tiafoe