US Open Day 7: Swiatek dethroned

Ostapenko ends Pole's reign in New York

Iga Swiatek / Huitièmes de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

An eventful Day 7 at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center witnessed four Americans advance to the quarter-finals, a champion lose two crowns, and a veteran stamp his authority.

Here's what you may have missed on Sunday at the US Open.

Double blow for Iga

Iga Swiatek was left puzzled by her performance after she suffered a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 fourth-round defeat to Jelena Ostapenko, which not only ended the Pole’s title defence in New York, but also saw her lose her No.1 ranking to Aryna Sabalenka, all in one go.

The 22-year-old Swiatek rose to the summit of the rankings on April 4, 2022 and since then has spent 75 consecutive weeks as world No.1.

She staved off Sabalenka on multiple occasions so far this season but will leave New York as the world No.2.

Swiatek said staying at the top all this time “meant a lot” to her, but it was also a challenging process learning how to deal with the pressures that come with being No.1.

Jelena Ostapenko / Huitièmes de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“This last part, it was pretty exhausting. I still need to do all this stuff that my team and all these great players like Roger or Novak or Rafa are telling about: you just have to focus on the tournaments, not the rankings,” she confessed.

“Usually I'm not looking at numbers, but overall I love them. I would love to extend this record a little bit longer. This is something that when I was younger, I actually kind of wanted to break some record or have something.

“For sure when it happens, when you lose it, there are some sad emotions.

“This season was really tough and intense. It's not easy to cope with all of this stuff, yeah. I'm just happy that I will have time to reset a little bit.”

Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland-Garros champion, maintained her perfect record against Swiatek with her fourth victory in four meetings with the Pole.

The Latvian world No.21 is the first player to defeat Swiatek on four occasions.

Ostapenko clocked 31 winners in their last-16 clash on Sunday, against just 20 unforced errors. She broke Swiatek seven times – from 10 break point opportunities – and won 73 percent of her first-serve points.

Swiatek finished the match with 18 winners and 18 unforced errors.

Iga Swiatek / Huitièmes de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I'm just surprised that my level changed so drastically because usually when I play bad, I play bad at the beginning, then I kind of catch up or just problem solve. This time it was totally the opposite. I don't really know what happened with my game. I felt no control suddenly,” said Swiatek.

On her part, Ostapenko is thrilled to reach a maiden US Open quarter-final, where she will take on Coco Gauff.

“I just honestly love to play on big courts with full stadiums and a lot of crowd. It's really the thing that we are working for and playing for. I think it's a great atmosphere,” said Ostapenko, who hadn’t won a match in New York since 2019, prior to this fortnight.

“I had nothing to lose today. I knew it was going to be a tough match. I was ready for a battle. I'm really glad, even the first set I couldn't find my game that way, but I was fighting and trying to find my game and be aggressive. In the end I managed to win the match.”

Coco stays the course

Meanwhile, Gauff has become the first American teenager to reach back-to-back US Open women’s singles quarter-finals since Serena Williams achieved that feat from 1999 to 2001.

The 19-year-old triumphed in a battle of generations, knocking out former world No.1 and two-time US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to pick up a 15th win from her last 16 matches.

Gauff dropped serve in the first game of the decider but swept the last six games of the contest to end Wozniacki’s impressive run in what was the Dane’s first Grand Slam appearance since the 2020 Australian Open.

In her on-court interview, Gauff paid tribute to Wozniacki, who came out of retirement last month after three and a half years away from the tour during which she had two children, Olivia and James.

“Caroline is back, it’s like she’s never left. The level that she played today is really amazing. She’s been an inspiration for me growing up,” said Gauff of her 33-year-old opponent.

Coco Gauff / Huitièmes de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Djokovic books Fritz clash

Three-time champion Novak Djokovic made it through to the US Open quarter-finals for the 13th time in 17 appearances with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 success over Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo.

The 36-year-old Djokovic unleashed 12 aces, won 88 per cent of his first-serve points and was broken just once during the two-hour 26-minute affair.

Gojo, a former NCAA team champion with Wake Forest University, was competing in just his third Grand Slam main draw. The 25-year-old has a big game that saw him tally up 40 winners, including 14 aces, but he also committed 40 unforced errors.

After dropping his opening two sets to Laslo Djere in the previous round, Djokovic was pleased he was locked in from the start against Gojo on Sunday.

“One of the keys to the win today was try to neutralise his serve, get as many serves back in play as possible, make him run. He's a big guy. Obviously moves well for his height, but is not maybe the best mover. I knew that's where tactically my chance is,” said 23-time major champion Djokovic.

The Serb’s reward is a showdown with home favourite and No.9 seed Taylor Fritz, who advanced to a maiden US Open quarter-final with a straight-sets win against Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker.

On his eighth appearance in Flushing Meadows, Fritz has yet to drop a set through four matches.

Another Slam quarter-final for Shelton

At one point during the third set of his all-American fourth-round match against Tommy Paul on Sunday, Ben Shelton fired back-to-back serves at 149mph (239.8kmph) – the fastest struck at this tournament so far.

The 20-year-old lefty chalked it up to “adrenaline” but considering the previous tournament high was a 147mph serve also from him, we’re seeing a bit of a pattern here from Shelton.

“I think straight adrenaline. Any other atmosphere I don’t think I can get it done, I think my arm might fall off, but it’s feeling pretty good right now,” Shelton told Mary Joe Fernandez in his on-court interview.

Shelton was up two sets and 4-1 on Sunday before Paul struck back to snatch the third set. The world No.47 recovered in the fourth though to complete a 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 over the 14th-seeded Paul and reach the US Open quarter-finals for the first time in his young career.  

“We don’t panic over here, in this box in the corner, there’s no panic over there,” said Shelton when asked about how he kept his cool after squandering his lead in the third.

Playing his first full year on tour, Shelton has now made it to two Grand Slam quarter-finals this season, after enjoying a breakthrough run at the Australian Open in January, which was ended by Paul in the last-eight stage.

Shelton is the youngest American man to make the quarters at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2002.

Last year, he was studying at the University of Florida and winning the NCAA Championship. A few months later he turned pro and today, his live ranking is up to a career-high No.27 in the world. When he played the clay season in Europe in the spring, it was the first time he had left the United States. His life has changed so rapidly and he’s handling it all remarkably well.

“I learned that it’s really important for me that I’m not just a tennis player, I don’t just put on a show on the court or win a lot of matches, but I treat people the right way and make an impact on a lot of young kids,” he said on court.

“I hope there’s a lot of young people in the crowd that develop a passion for tennis when they watch me play.”

Big stuff from Big Foe

Next up for Shelton is another American and good friend, Frances Tiafoe, who overcame surprise fourth-rounder Rinky Hijikata 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in exactly two hours to reach the US Open quarter-finals for a second successive year.

Tiafoe fired 15 aces, dropped just six points behind his first serve, and converted 7/14 break points during his win over the Aussie wildcard.

The 10th-seeded Tiafoe, who made the semis in New York in 2022 defeating Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev along the way, is now 17-8 win-loss at his home Slam.

Tiafoe is one of four American men (along with Shelton, Paul and Taylor Fritz) to make it to the fourth round in New York this year – a first occurrence at the US Open since 2011.

The 25-year-old says he and his compatriots are constantly pushing each other to do better.

“I think it’s something that’s definitely unspoken. You see guys you grew up with and played against for so many years, you rub shoulders with these guys, you see them doing exceptional things and I think it’s a domino effect,” said Tiafoe.

“You believe it if they’re doing it and then you kind of one-up each other. It’s something that’s unspoken but it’s definitely a great thing to have and I hope we just keep going for many years.”

Stats of the day

14 – Sorana Cirstea is back in a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time in 14 years. The Romanian’s only previous appearance in the last-eight stage at a major came at Roland-Garros back in 2009.

She has played 52 Grand Slams since then and on her 53rd, Cirstea is finally back in the final eight at a major.

The 33-year-old knocked out No.15 seed Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-3 on Sunday to book a quarter-final meeting with Roland-Garros finalist Karolina Muchova.

“I have a big smile on my face because I worked so much for this. Very few people know what goes on behind the scenes and how much work I put to get here and be here today. This means the world to me,” said Cirstea after the win.

Sorana Cirstea / Huitièmes de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

5 – Muchova has improved to 5-1 in Grand Slam fourth round matches, thanks to her battling 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 victory over 21-year-old Wang Xinyu on Sunday.

Wang was making her first appearance in a Grand Slam fourth round on her 10th main draw appearance at the majors.

With Zheng Qinwen also through to the last 16 (takes on Ons Jabeur on Monday), this is the first time two Chinese women are through to fourth round at the US Open in the Open Era.

18 – With Fritz, Shelton and Tiafoe all advancing, this is the first time in 18 years, since 2005, that three American men have reached the US Open quarter-finals.