With the 2018 US Open now in the quarterfinal stage of the tournament, here are the top five matches to watch.
The US Open has had its fair share of great moments in Queens this year. There have been many storylines in the first week including the pep talk Nick Kyrgios got from the chair umpire, the extreme heat in New York City, and Alize Cornet getting a warning violation for fixing her shirt.
Outside of the controversies and weather, the quality of tennis has been great. The new Louis Armstrong Stadium has been a proverbial graveyard court for most of the top players on the women’s draw. Right now, 10 of the top 12 seeds are out in the women’s section, so it is wide open as to who will hold the trophy on Saturday.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, the top four picks for the title are still in the tournament. There was a match involving (7) Marin Cilic that ended at 2:30 a.m ET on Sunday that provided a lot of drama.
The seeds held true to form on the men’s side up until Monday night when (2) Roger Federer lost a shocking match in the Round of 16 in four sets to John Millman from Australia. Federer’s serve was off and Millman was able to take advantage of it. This match came after a shocking upset on the women’s side as (22) Maria Sharapova lost for the first time on Arthur Ashe Stadium on a night match.
With that being said, let’s take a look at five of my favorite quarterfinal matches that will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday (coverage begins on both days at 12 p.m ET, ESPN). Before that, here are my picks for the other three matches:
(20) Naomi Osaka over Lesia Tsurenko in straight sets (Wednesday) – While Tsurenko has one of the big upsets in this tournament with her second-round win over (2) Caroline Wozniacki, Osaka is having her breakthrough tournament. Her power game will get her into the semifinals.
(14) Madison Keys over (30) Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets (Wednesday) – Keys played an impressive fourth-round match against Dominika Cibulkova on Monday. She has won all three meetings against the Spaniard in her career, but all of them have come in three sets (includes 2016 Olympics).
Suarez Navarro has one of the better backhands in the women’s game and that will keep her in a lot of points. However, Keys has had an impressive ace total (26) and she has won 79 percent of points on her first serve. The only other player with a higher percentage is Serena (81 percent). Keys, who was my champion pick at the start of the tourney, continues her run with a victory.
(6) Novak Djokovic over John Millman in straight sets (Wednesday) – Millman had the big win over Federer and has upset two top 15 seeds to get to this point. However, this is where the cinderella story ends. Djokovic has played strong tennis in the last couple of rounds and it is tough to see him not making the final at least after the Federer upset, especially with the way he has been returning serve.
Now, to the top five matches:
5. (3) Sloane Stephens vs. (19) Anastasija Sevastova (Tuesday afternoon) – Stephens has played well in her defense of the US Open title and she had a convincing win over (15) Elise Mertens in the Round of 16 in straight sets.
Stephens has a good serve in this tournament as 70 percent of her first serves have landed in (seventh in the US Open). After losing in the first round in two of the first three Grand Slams, she has had a good showing in Flushing. However, don’t sleep on her challenger.
Sevastova has made the US Open quarterfinals each of the last three years. This includes losing to Stephens 7-6 in the third set last year. Sevastova has returned serve well this tournament as she has won 77 points on first serve returns (third in the tournament and the highest of any player left).
Stephens did win their previous meeting earlier this summer in Montreal (6-2, 6-2). While the American is the pick to advance to the semifinals, don’t be surprised to see another three-setter.
4. (21) Kei Nishikori vs. (7) Marin Cilic (Wednesday) – This matchup is a rematch of the 2014 US Open final. Cilic won that match in straight sets. The two players have split their six meetings since that match.
Nishikori is in the quarterfinals for the third time in the last four Grand Slams and has been flying under-the-radar after losing only one set in the first four rounds. That being said, Cilic had a surprisingly quick win against (10) Dennis Goffin after a long third-round match.
In this title rematch, Cilic gets the checkmark for me, but he has to improve on the first serve percentage. Against Goffin, he only got 46 percent of his first serves in, but still won 83 percent of points on that serve and had 12 aces. Nishikori is a good defensive player, but Cilic gets the win in four sets.
3. (9) Dominic Thiem vs. (1) Rafael Nadal (Tuesday night)
This matchup is intriguing from the standpoint that Thiem has been flying under-the-radar in this tournament but had an impressive straight-set win over (5) Kevin Anderson in the Round of 16. The Austrian won 41 of the 45 points on his first serve despite getting just 49 percent of his first serves in.
Thiem has defeated Nadal three times in the ten matchups that have been played. However, the caveat on that is that all 10 matchups have been played on clay. Still, defeating Nadal three times on his best surface is quite an accomplishment.
As for Nadal, he has gone to four sets in each of the last two matches and hasn’t faced a top-20 player. However, he has won the clutch points that he has needed to win like in the tiebreaks in the third round against (27) Karen Khachanov.
Thiem is going to need to replicate his first serve point performance that he had against Anderson without too many faults. Otherwise, Nadal can attack the second serve and win the quick points. This match should feature three tight sets, but Nadal gets the check mark in straight sets.
2. (11) John Isner vs. (4) Juan Martin del Potro (Tuesday afternoon)
This is an intriguing matchup because you have the lone American man left in the draw in Isner against the fan favorite from Argentina, del Potro. Outside of the “Big 3,” del Potro has been in the best form of any player in the tournament as he has won all 12 sets. That should help him at this stage of the tournament.
It has been a great summer for Isner, who is about to become a father in the near future. At 33-years of age, he got to the semifinals of Wimbledon and is returning the ball better than he has in his whole career to go along with one of the best serves in tennis.
In the head-to-head battle, del Potro has the edge, 7-4. The 2009 US Open champion defeated Isner in straight sets at the French Open (Round of 16). But, Isner did defeat del Potro in two sets in Miami on a hard court earlier this year.
Both players have strong serves, but del Potro’s ability to return the serve with his forehand is going to give him the edge here. Expect two tiebreaks, but the Argentine gets it done in four sets. While the heart prediction is for Isner, my head says pick del Potro.
1. (17) Serena Williams vs. (8) Karolina Pliskova (Tuesday night)
Serena has played some of her best tennis in the last two rounds. She dominated her third round match against Venus Williams and her serve helped her pull out a three-set win over Kaia Kanepi in the Round of 16. She is one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win her 24th major, but this is her toughest test yet.
Pliskova did defeat Serena in straight sets in the semifinals of the 2016 US Open because of her serve. In that match, the Czech woman won 84 percent of her first serve points. This tournament, she has 26 aces (tied with Madison Keys for second in the women’s draw). However, Serena has 47.
If Pliskova is going to win this match, the serve is going to be key. She has been able to avoid the upsets unlike most of the top women as she hasn’t dropped a set in the US Open. However, you have to think Serena has revenge on her mind and she finds a way to get it done in three sets.