Ever since its dramatic conclusion in the night-shift hours of Saturday morning, Rafael Nadal-Fabio Fognini has stood as the unofficial match of the 2015 US Open.
It’s about to be eclipsed.
In back-to-back matches Sunday afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Venus Williams rolled Anett Kontaveit and Serena Williams played – and served – brilliantly in dismissing young American Madison Keys. That sets up the most highly anticipated match of this Flushing fortnight: Serena versus Venus in the 27th edition of the greatest sister act since Whoopi Goldberg donned a habit.
Venus and Serena were not the only former champions to advance on Day 7, however, though they had a decidedly easier time than the past men’s winners. Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic were both extended to four sets in their fourth-round victories, over Jeremy Chardy and Roberto Bautista Agut, respectively, with Djokovic looking mortal for the first time this fortnight.
But while the Sunday’s leading men stumbled, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Felciano Lopez soared. Through four matches, Tsonga has yet to drop serve or surrender a set, and Lopez was impressively impressive in dismissing Nadal-slayer Fognini in three tidy frames.
Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 8 of the 2015 US Open.
Match of the Day: Throughout the 2015 Grand Slam season, Novak Djokovic has looked impenetrable, an off-key performance against a sublime Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final the only blemish on his record. Through the first three rounds of this year’s US Open, he looked even better, winning all three in straight sets to cruise into the round of 16, where he had a seemingly simple matchup against the always steady but seldom spectacular Roberto Bautista Agut. Only, on this night, Bautista Agut was spectacular. Cracking his stiff-armed forehand with surprising alacrity, Bautista Agut seized control of the rallies against the flummoxed Djokovic, who struggled to find a chink in the Spaniard’s armor. The world No. 1 tried to rush the net – he came in 45 times, compared to 68 times in his first three matches combined – only to watch sizzling passing shots zip by or die at his feet. But Djokovic, as he does better than anyone in tennis, persisted, slowly wearing down his opponent to earn a hard-fought, well-earned, three-hour, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory to advance to his astounding 26th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Players of the Day: When the displays are that dominant, how can you choose which Williams for the day’s prime player? In examples 1-A and 1-B of age trumping youth, 35-year-old Venus whipped 19-year-old Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-1, in 50 minutes, and 33-year-old Serena followed with a dominating takedown of 20-year-old rising star Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-3, in 68 minutes. Their victories set up a must-see quarterfinal on Tuesday between two women who have combined for eight US Open titles and 28 Grand Slam crowns – and that’s only in singles. They have also teamed with each other for 13 major doubles titles and three doubles gold medals, in addition to a singles gold medal in the trophy cabinet for each. Their story, though well covered, is nonetheless remarkable: two sisters who grew up in Compton, Calif., trained by their father, growing up to be not only the two best players of their generation, but two of the all-time greats. Now they’ll get to add another chapter – perhaps a final chapter? – to their rivalry on the New York stage, with Serena’s Grand Slam hopes hanging in the balance.
Upset of the Day: Kristina Mladenovic has long crackled with talent, a junior champion who made a strong early push on the WTA tour. Doubles success ensued, but her singles results trailed behind. That is, until Sunday night. The talented Frenchwoman put on a steely display, rebounding from second-set setback to blitz No. 13 seed and 2014 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1, in a match that ran past 1 a.m. Monday morning. With the victory, Mladenovic advanced to the second week at a Gram Slam for the first time in her 20th Slam appearance. And she may not be done yet – the 22-year-old meets fellow non-seed Roberta Vinci on Tuesday for a spot in the 2015 US Open semifinals.
Quote of the Day: “I just feel more relaxed, I’d say. Could have been more pressure, and luckily I was able to control it and to find good tennis.” – Marin Cilic, following his four-set victory over Jeremy Chardy, on if he felt more pressure playing this year as the defending champion.
Looking Ahead: Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Top-ranked American John Isner will carry his Excalibur of a serve with him into a Day 8 matchup with the inimitable Roger Federer in the marquee match of the day. Both are playing peerless tennis, with Federer dropping just 20 games over nine sets and Isner only 27 over eight. Amazingly for Isner, the man who has played a whopping 33 tiebreaks in his US Open career has been forced into nary a one thus far, and he has not lost serve in Flushing Meadows since 2013, a streak of six consecutive matches. The North Carolinian will need to be similarly sturdy Monday night if he is to advance to the quarters here for the second time in his career (2011) against a man who has set up camp in the final eight; the Swiss is seeking US Open quarterfinal No. 11.
Also in the men’s draw, a pair of high-quality encounters are on tap as No. 6 Tomas Berdych and No. 12 Richard Gasquet, both past Open semifinalists, square off alongside No. 3 Andy Murray versus No. 15 Kevin Anderson. Rounding it off is the lone unseeded men’s player in action, comeback kid Donald Young, who faces No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka. Young has dropped the opening set in all three of his matches thus far and came back from two sets down in both his first-round upset of No. 11 Gilles Simon and third-round victory over No. 22 Viktor Troicki.
Five Grand Slam finalists and two great stories highlight the Day 8 women’s lineup, with qualifier Johanna Konta and unseeded American Varvara Lepchenko joining former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, two-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 2014 French Open runner-up Simona Halep and past Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki The outlier? Perennial Open contender Flavia Pennetta, who has reached the quarterfinals or better six times at a major – five of those at the US Open.