Throw two highly ranked players, both of whom had never reached the US Open quarterfinals, into the pressure cooker that is a standing-room-only Louis Armstrong Stadium on Labor Day and you have the ingredients for a stew destined to bubble over.
On a day in which neither player brought their best game to Queens, Simona Halep and Sabine Lisicki played a gritty, three-set affair filled with tension, long rallies and no shortage of passionate displays of emotion.
Halep and Lisicki had gone to battle before, playing a dizzying three sets on the hard courts of Miami and the clay of Madrid, but it was Halep who rose to the occasion by dominating Lisicki at Wimbledon in 2014. With Lisicki coming out of the short side of their previous three matches, the German was clearly motivated to prevail on the Flushing Meadows hard courts.
Make no mistake, though they were playing in the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, both players could see the bright lights of the quarterfinals. Saving a set point and roaring back to win the first-set tiebreak, it seemed as though Lisicki was not far from cracking the final eight. With Halep struggling throughout the match with tightness in her left leg, Lisicki challenged the Romanian with a flurry of drop shots and testy rallies that sent the world No. 2 zig-zagging across the court.
Halep had a few slams of the racquet, and poor body language throughout a trying second set, which she ultimately pulled out. Yet the turning point may have been an off-the-court variable. Halep looked like a new player coming off a 10-minute heat effect break before the third set and seized the moment to keep her US Open dream alive.
The match was everything this tournament promises in the second week: Raw emotion, ailing players pushing forward, and on a sweltering hot day in the sun ... sweet relief.