US Open Day 10: Alcaraz, Sabalenka prove their mettle

In tough humid conditions, favourites make their way back into the semi-finals

Carlos Alcaraz / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

The semi-final line-ups are now complete and we're in for some quality match-ups as we enter the closing stages of this US Open.

Here's what you may have missed from an exciting Wednesday in New York.

An efficient night for Carlos

It was not a flawless performance but world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz still managed to defeat Alexander Zverev in straight sets to reach a fourth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final.

In a two-and-a-half-hour battle that saw him hit 34 unforced errors against 29 winners, Alcaraz was clinical when it mattered the most, converting 4/4 break point opportunities and saving all five he faced on his own serve to beat Zverev 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

“I’m feeling really comfortable playing on this court, playing here in New York,” said the Spanish defending champion, who will take on No.3 seed Daniil Medvedev in the final four on Friday.

“I’m showing my best level on this court. Last year it was really, really tough, since the fourth round I played five sets until the final. Here I just played one match in four sets.

“I’m feeling great physically, feeling great with my tennis game, feeling strong mentally and I’m ready to play a great battle against Medvedev in the semi-final.”

Alcaraz is now 17-1 in Grand Slam matches this season (missed Australian Open, semis at Roland-Garros, won Wimbledon) and leads the tour with 58 match-wins overall in 2023.

The 20-year-old has now levelled his head-to-head to 3-3 against Zverev, who falls to 2-14 versus top-10 opposition at the majors.

The German No.12 seed, who survived a four-hour 41-minute marathon against Jannik Sinner two days earlier, revealed that he sustained a hamstring issue in the second set that significantly hampered his ability to serve.

"My serve speed was down quite a lot compared to the other days. Against him especially I needed a good serving day otherwise it would have been difficult," said Zverev. "I think my biggest weapon was kind of taken away after the first set, and it's difficult to even compete if you don't have that."

Carlos Alcaraz / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Medvedev ready to fight

“Wow,” said Medvedev when he was told he has won 49 percent of his return games at this US Open.

An apt reaction from the 2021 champion, who leads the men’s tournament in that category, even ahead of GOAT returner Novak Djokovic, who has won 44 percent of his return games. Everyone else in the draw is in the 30s.

In brutal humid conditions, third-seeded Medvedev broke his good friend Andrey Rublev nine times on Wednesday en route to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the US Open semi-finals for the fourth time in the last five years.

Rublev, who is the godfather of Medvedev’s daughter Alisa, continues his search for a maiden Grand Slam semi-final, having fallen in the last-eight stage for a ninth time in as many attempts.   

Daniil Medvedev / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“Obviously the conditions were not easy, but it was for both,” said Rublev.

“But when you have, I don't know, let's say you're on a sprint and your heart rate is very high and to go to serve, I was a bit struggling. I was not able to calm down in these 20 seconds to be able to serve free. Also with all the sweat, you feel the grip is slippery.”

Medvedev is pleased with his form so far this tournament, giving himself a 10/10, but says he needs to be at 11/10 if he wants to beat Alcaraz in Friday’s semi-finals.

“That's how Carlos is, very strong. Even here I think he lost one set but I watch some matches, sometimes on break points he runs for the passing shots. Incredible stuff,” said Medvedev.

“Two last times I lost, let's call it, pretty easy. I'm someone who fights a lot, so I want to try to be better, and I need to be 11 out of 10 to try to beat him.”

Daniil Medvedev / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Sabalenka back in the final four

It’s hard to believe that just over two years ago, prior to Wimbledon 2021, Aryna Sabalenka had never made it past the fourth round at a Grand Slam.

It took her 15 major appearances to cross that barrier and just like that, a dam broke and deep runs at the Slams just kept on flowing.

With a 6-1, 6-4 victory over No.23 seed Zheng Qinwen in New York on Wednesday, Sabalenka has secured passage into a fifth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, a third straight at the US Open, and a seventh from her last nine majors.

She’s the first woman to make at least the semi-finals at all four majors in the same season since Serena Williams in 2016, and the reigning Australian Open champion has looked on a mission this fortnight in Flushing Meadows, dropping no more than five games per match through five rounds.

Aryna Sabalenka / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I'm super proud of myself and my team that we have been able to adjust to different conditions, different courts. We were able to bring this consistency in my game,” said Sabalenka, who will become the 29th woman to occupy the world No.1 spot when the new rankings are released on Monday.

“This is something I'm really proud of, and it's just unbelievable and I'm just super happy right now that I'm being able to do this.”

Sabalenka, who battled through some serious problems with her serve early last year before working out the kinks with a biomechanics coach, had a great serving day against Zheng.

The No.2 seed won 88 percent (23/26) of the points behind her first serve, and 68 percent (13/19) behind her second, as she wrapped up the victory in one hour and 13 minutes.

Asked if her perspective will change when she rises to the top ranking and become the hunted rather than the hunter, Sabalenka said: “I'm super happy with this achievement in my career, but it's not a big change.

“I have been No.2. Now I'm No.1. It's just a difference of position in the draw. I still have to bring my best tennis. I still have to play my best. People will try to chase me and get me.

“But it just an extra motivation for me, seeing them really trying their best to beat me, it's an extra power and energy for me to keep playing, keep pushing, keep getting better.”

Keys rolls back the years

The woman who will be standing across the net from Sabalenka in Thursday’s semi-final is home favourite Madison Keys, who is back in the US Open last-four stage for the first time in five years, and third time overall, with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova.

There had been a theme carried over through all the women’s quarter-finals at this tournament that saw the eventual winner dominate the opening set with a lopsided scoreline and that pattern continued in the Keys-Vondrousova night-session clash on Wednesday.

It was Keys who played a near-perfect opening set, landing 70 percent of her first serves in, and winning 74 percent of the points behind her first delivery to take a one-set lead in 39 minutes.

Vondrousova, who is dealing with an elbow issue, showed more resistance in the second set, creating six break point opportunities on the Keys serve but the Czech lefty couldn’t convert and the clash was over in one hour and 26 minutes.

“I just love it here, I love playing here, incredible home crowd, you can never feel like you can’t get out of any situation,” said the 17th-seeded Keys, who was a finalist at the US Open in 2017.  

“I think just all the great memories here and all the super long battles that I’ve had with the crowd getting me through it, I always walk on the court and feel right at home.”

Marketa Vondrousova & Madison Keys / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Stats of the day

– Keys saved 9/9 break points against Vondrousova in their quarter-final on Wednesday.

– As Keys enters her sixth Grand Slam semi-final, only five active WTA players have reached more semis at the majors than the 28-year-old American.

– Sabalenka has dropped just 21 games through five rounds this fortnight in New York. She hasn’t dropped a set en route to the semis.

– Sabalenka is the first woman to make the semi-finals in five consecutive Grand Slam appearances (US Open 2022 to US Open 2023) since Serena Williams reached 10 between US Open 2014 and Australian Open 2017.

– Sabalenka leads the women’s tournament in the first-serve points won category with an impressive 79 percent success rate behind her first delivery.

– With his win over Rublev on Wednesday, Medvedev is now 7-1 win-loss in Grand Slam quarter-final matches.

– Rublev is the first man in the Open Era to lose his first nine Grand Slam quarter-final matches.

– Zheng exited the tournament in the quarter-final stage, leading the women’s field with 28 aces struck through five rounds.

Madison Keys / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Quote of the day

“I just remember watching the Australian Open and being very devastated, because I've never missed an Australian Open. I was just thinking, okay, like, when I was watching, like, Serena and Venus, I was thinking, ah, I probably no way will ever play at their age, but sitting here, I'm like, you know what? I might do that actually.

“For me personally, it really raised my love for the sport. It made me realise, like, I'm not going to play forever. I have to embrace the times. It definitely made me appreciate a lot of things that I took for granted.”

– Four-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 Naomi Osaka describes how she felt during her time away from the sport.

Osaka, who recently gave birth to daughter Shai and is currently on maternity leave, was at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday to speak in a mental health forum alongside Michael Phelps titled “Mental Health and Sport: Why It Matters”.