In the city where Bob Dylan first made his name, the times they are a changin’. With no Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in the draw and with Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev both knocked out in the fourth round, a new champion will be crowned this coming weekend.
US Open - Quarter-finals preview: The future starts here
Focus on the last quarter-finals of this US Open!
There is an old saying: be careful what you wish for. When Jannik Sinner beat Carlos Alcaraz in the fourth round at Wimbledon, he said he hoped that he and the Spaniard would play many, many more times in the coming months and years. And, hey presto, his wish has been granted.
Sinner and Alcaraz have followed the same stellar career path: brilliant teenagers who were instantly tipped for greatness. Sinner, at 21, is now trying to build on that foundation (this is his third Grand Slam quarter-final this year) while Alcaraz, at just 19, has leapfrogged his Italian rival. He stands at No.4 in the world rankings and should he get to the final, and should Casper Ruud fail to get there, he will be the new world No.1.
And now they face each other for a place in the US Open semi-finals.
Their career rivalry, such as it is at their age, is led by Sinner. He has won two of their three matches, and both wins have come this year. He has won on grass and on clay. Alcaraz’s win came on an indoor hard court at the Rolex Paris Masters. But this is an outdoor hard court and it will be played in front of nearly 24,000 New Yorkers in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Better still, it is the second night match and played at a time of night when the locals have had time to partake of a few Grey Goose Honey Deuces (it is the official cocktail of the US Open, after all). Needless to say, the atmosphere will be raucous. Not that Alcaraz minds.
He squeaked past Marin Cilic at 2.23am on Tuesday morning and had it not been for the diehard fans who stayed to watch, he is not sure that he would still be here. “I believe in myself all the time,” he said. “Of course, the support today in Arthur Ashe was crazy. Without you guys, it wouldn’t be possible to win this match tonight.”
Sinner, too, was taken to five sets. Ilya Ivashka pushed him hard but the Italian was also his own worst enemy, pinging down 14 double faults. Hardly surprising then, that he concluded: “Today I was struggling.” He needs to regroup and reset if he is to make it three wins in a row against Alcaraz.
On paper, it looks as if the men’s draw is wide open but the women’s draw with Swiatek as the Roland Garros champion, Karolina Pliskova as the former Wimbledon and US Open finalist and Aryna Sabalenka as last year’s Wimbledon and US Open semi-finalist appears, at first glance, to be following the form book. But that is only at first glance.
Swiatek was the all-conquering force in the early spring and on into the early summer. For 37 consecutive matches, no one could beat her – and for most of those matches, no one could keep her on court for more than an hour. But once she had won her second Roland Garros title, that dominance petered out. And here in New York, her best ever result is reaching the fourth-round last year.
Pegula, on the other hand, is relentlessly consistent; she simply does not go away. She can be beaten (she has just the one title to her name) but if her opponent shows any frailty, she will be there to take advantage of it. She has lost to the world No.1 twice this year, but that was back the months when the Pole was flying high. And she has beaten Swiatek on a hard court, back in 2019 in Washington.
The winner of that encounter will take on either Pliskova or Sabalenka. By her own admission, Pliskova was having a “disaster year” until she started winning a few matches – long three-setters – in the run into New York. Once here, she has had to battle her way into the last eight but with the knowledge that she has beaten Sabalenka the last two times they have met, what started as a disaster is actually turning into a pretty good summer.
Frances Tiafoe has already had a good US Open. The man who beat Rafael Nadal is through to his first quarter-final at his home Grand Slam – and only the second major quarter-final of his career – and now he has Andrey Rublev standing between him and a place in the last four. He has played Rublev twice before: he beat him here last year and he lost to him in Indian Wells back in March. And today, “Big Foe” will have the crowd on his side. It might just make the difference.