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Updated on: Wednesday, September 08, 2021, 11:35 PM IST

US Open Tennis: Fernandez, the magician; Teenager unveiled her latest trick, a veteran-like ability to join Medvedev, Sabalenka, Auger-Aliassime in semifinals

Leylah Fernandez | AFP

Leylah Fernandez | AFP

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New York: With the singles spotlight now exclusively on Arthur Ashe Stadium, four quarterfinal matchups took center stage. Leylah Fernandez continued her storybook run through the New York draw by winning the match of the day in a third-set tiebreak, while a pair of world No. 2s, Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka, also dealt themselves into the final four.

The men's and mixed doubles quarterfinals also concluded on Tuesday, with the semifinals set in both competitions.

For the third straight match, the Canadian won a third set against a card-carrying member of the WTA's elite. After edging Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber to reach the quarterfinals, Fernandez again found herself in a decider against Tokyo bronze medalist Elina Svitolina, the world No. 5.

The magic continued as the 19-year-old unveiled her latest trick, a veteran-like ability to reset at the crucial moments—after failing to capitalize on a 5-2 final-set lead. Svitolina closed to 5-all, and battled to deuce in Fernandez's 5-all service game. But the Canadian won a pivotal 23-ball rally, then fired a big serve to escape.

In the breaker, Fernandez saw a 4-1 lead vanish, then won a 19-ball rally to pull ahead once more. The moment of the match came at 5-all, when her on-the-run forehand pass clipped the net and bounded down the line, past a stranded Svitolina. Another big serve ended it, sending the youngster to the floor in celebration with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 victory.

Medvedev into third straight US Open semi: The Russian dropped his first set of the fortnight, but only after winning a bagel second stanza against qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp. The surprise quarterfinalist showed he belonged by winning the third and battling to 5-all in the fourth, but Medvedev avoided any further drama by breaking in the final game of a 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 win.

I’m happy with my game in the fourth set because on my serve I lost maybe two points," said the Russian. "At 6-5, he got a little bit tight, and I managed to do it without the tiebreaker,”

No surprise, the high-IQ Medvedev was right on the money with that stat, on his first serve, he won 21 of 23 points in the fourth set. For the match, he converted first-serve points at an 83 per cent clip, while winning 42per cent of total points on the return.

Sabalenka into second straight major semi: The women's No. 2 seed did not need an extra frame on Tuesday, though she did have to navigate a number of lengthy deuce games in her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Barbora Krejcikova.

Auger-Aliassime advances after Alcaraz retires: With the Canadian leading by a set and a break, 6-3, 3-1, Alcaraz was forced to retire with a right adductor injury. After just 68 minutes of play, Auger-Aliassime advanced to face Medvedev in the semifinals.

Four down, three to go; Serbian Novak Djokovic’s path to tennis history

Unsurprisingly, Novak Djokovic is through to the quarterfinals of the 2021 US Open. In his path, he's vanquished up-and-coming qualifier Holger Rune, 121st-ranked Tallon Griekspoor, former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and breakout American wild card Jenson Brooksby. And while Rune, Nishikori and Brooksby were all able to steal a set from Djokovic, the world No. 1 was never at serious risk of an early exit.

That leaves three victories standing between Djokovic and a date with history as the first player to win the calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988, and the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969, more than a half-century ago.

To put what Djokovic is trying to accomplish in perspective, the last player to advance to this stage was Serena Williams, who claimed the titles in Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon in 2015 before falling to Roberta Vinci in a semifinal stunner at the Open. And she is the only player since Graf to make it to New York with the calendar Slam on the line. Moreover, the only other player to do so in the Open era is Margaret Court, who completed her Slam at the US Open in 1970.

Djokovic will take his next step toward the Slam Wednesday night against Italian No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini. Here’s a closer look at that match, and the ensuing rounds that await Djokovic as he chases tennis immortality.

A third act with Berrettini awaits Djokovic in the quarterfinals. The two faced off at both the French Open (quarterfinals) and Wimbledon (final), with Djokovic winning both encounters in four sets. Despite those results, the Italian is certainly capable of defeating Djokovic and has the physical game and quick-strike style (big serve, big forehand) that could prove the recipe for an upset. And after entering the Open with some injury concerns, Berrettini has shown in New York that he is indeed healthy, most recently gutting out a five-set victory over Ilya Ivashka in the third round.

History, however, has proven that this is not the round to draw Djokovic; he is 11-0 in his previous US Open quarterfinal matches.

The US Open men’s draw has suffered its share of upsets, as it often does, but that has done little to clear the way for Djokovic. Berrettini, Zverev and Medvedev represent the most difficult opponents he could face in final three rounds, and all have the ability to unseat him, particularly Zverev and Medvedev, who have done so on big stages before, if never at a Grand Slam event.

Quite simply, if the 20-time major champion is to claim a record-setting No. 21 in New York, and with it the elusive Grand Slam, he will have to earn it.

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Published on: Wednesday, September 08, 2021, 11:35 PM IST
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