It may be the return of the famously electric New York crowd to the stands, or the fact that it’s the final Grand Slam of the year and players are eager to finish on a high — whatever the reason, the 2021 US Open has delivered the most exciting and competitive first week we’ve seen at a major in a long time.
On the men’s side, we’ve already witnessed 33 five-set matches — the third-most in US Open history. We’ve had 10 comebacks from two-sets-to-love down, which is a joint record alongside the 1974 and 2012 editions for most in US Open history, and seven matches decided by a fifth-set tiebreak — also a joint tournament record.
Only nine seeded men made it to the fourth round this two weeks — the fewest at a Grand Slam since 2013 Wimbledon and fewest at the US Open since 2005.
Unseeded American Frances Tiafoe has a theory as to why the men’s event has been this intense, noting the absence of injured duo Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has motivated the rest of the field to try a little harder than usual.
“I think there are numerous reasons. You don't have Roger, Rafa. Guys are hungry,” said Tiafoe following his tight four-set defeat to Felix Auger-Aliassime in the last-16.
“Level of tennis is high. Anyone can beat anyone. Look, I'm 50 in the world. I'm beating all these kind of guys. You have [three] qualifiers in the round of 16, like tennis, like there is no bumps. Everyone's good. If you don't show up to play, you can lose to anyone.
“I definitely think guys are trying extra hard, because there is no Roger, Rafa. I truly believe that. I see guys foaming in the mouth, pretty funny to watch, I'm in the locker room cracking up.
“You have [Andreas] Seppi like 37 [years old] playing 15-13 in the fifth. What's that about? Crazy. His 19th US Open, he's putting his heart on the line. He's probably not doing that if he plays Rafa the second round. It's unreal.”
While the men’s event has seen lots of chaos, the women’s draw was way more stable through the opening few days with all top-20 seeds advancing to the third round — a first-time occurrence at a Grand Slam since the 32-seed format was introduced in 2001.
Here’s a look at some of the highs and lows from the week gone by in Flushing Meadows.
Rough tournament for Tsitsipas
The New York crowd loves a villain and this year, it decided it has found one in Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek world No 3 came under fire multiple times, and has been accused of gamesmanship for taking legal, but lengthy, toilet breaks during his matches.
Tsitsipas was called out by his opening opponent Andy Murray for his stall tactics, and was booed by an unforgiving crowd during his matches.
“I'm not pretending that everyone loves me. My intentions are not to be loved by everyone. Every person can choose their favourite player, pick a side,” he said following his five-set defeat to Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in round three.
He might not want to be loved by everyone but it’s fair to assume Tsitsipas will need some time to recover. The 23-year-old’s popularity has taken a hit and even though he didn’t break any rules, his antics raised many questions. Perhaps it’s time the tennis authorities revisited their own policies and implemented some sort of time limit on toilet breaks between sets.
Osaka’s uncertain future
Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka made a tearful statement on her way out, announcing she’ll be taking a break from tennis “for a while” following her three-set third-round loss to Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez.
“Recently, when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal,” she confessed.
It takes so much strength to publicise such feelings and decide to step away from something that has been the centre of her universe for so long. Osaka continues to inspire, be it during her highs or her lows. Whatever she decides, the world No 3 is showing us all that preserving your mental health is always the right move.
All about teen spirit
Three 18-year-olds — Alcaraz, Fernandez and Emma Raducanu — have blasted through the draws this US Open and they’ve done it in stunning fashion.
After sending Tsitsipas packing, Alcaraz backed up his big upset with a battling four-set victory over German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk to become the youngest US Open men’s quarter-finalist in the Open Era.
“Since a while we all know that he [Alcaraz] has something special, that there’s a great, great player coming up. We can say that we have a new star in our game,” 2020 champion Dominic Thiem said in an interview on the Tennis Channel.
Fernandez recovered from a set and a break down in back-to-back wins over two former US Open champions in Osaka and Angelique Kerber to reach her first grand slam quarter-final.
Raducanu enjoyed a dream run to the last 16 when she made her major debut at Wimbledon two months ago and the British teenager has already matched that result at the US Open. Raducanu has won six matches through qualifying and the main draw these past two weeks, without dropping a set, and she conceded just one game in her third round victory over in-form Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.
On the secret to her success at the slams this year, Raducanu said: “I think it's the desire and hunger to just stay. I'm extremely fresh. I haven't really played on tour for the whole entire year. This whole experience is just so new to me. I think it's the enjoyment factor that I'm getting.”
It had been 12 years since multiple teenagers featured in the US Open women’s fourth round and it’s the first time since 1998 that at least one man and one woman aged 18-or-under have featured in the last-16 stage in New York.
Undefeated at the Open
No 6 seed Bianca Andreescu is a perfect 10-0 win-loss in US Open matches. The Canadian won the event on her debut in 2019 and missed the tournament through injury last season. She is through to the fourth round, where she takes on Greek No 17 seed Maria Sakkari on Monday.
“I hope that it can continue like this the whole way and I can be 14-0 at the US Open. That's my goal,” said Andreescu.
Ace queen is back
No 4 seed Karolina Pliskova struck 24 aces in her second-round win over Amanda Anisimova. This is the most any woman has hit in a match at the US Open since the tournament began recording the stat in 1998. Pliskova hit another 20 in her third round win over Ajla Tomljanovic and has now leapfrogged Ashleigh Barty to take over the summit of the WTA’s 2021 aces leaderboard.
On a roll
Several streaks are still alive at this US Open. Novak Djokovic carries a 24-match winning run at the Grand Slams into his fourth round against Jenson Brooksby on Monday, Elina Svitolina is undefeated in her last nine consecutive matches, while Alexander Zverev is riding a 14-match winning streak that includes taking gold in the Tokyo Olympics and lifting the trophy in Cincinnati.
In terms of consistency at the slams, Iga Swiatek is the only WTA player to reach at least the fourth round at all four majors this season.
Fifth time’s a charm for Shelby
Saturday’s third round action provided a full circle moment for top-seeded Barty and a comeback to remember for Shelby Rogers.
The pair had already faced off four times this season before this two weeks, with Barty winning all of those encounters. Rogers had been taking notes after each loss and she finally turned the table on the Australian, coming back from a double-break 2-5 down in the deciding set to earn her first victory over a world No 1.
Barty has been on the road since March and has picked up five titles this year, including Wimbledon and Miami. She dealt with her near-miss against Rogers with brilliant perspective.
“The last six months have been a roller coaster. I think back to the very first match that I played on this trip. I was 5-2 down in the third set in the first round of Miami. Tennis has a funny way of evening things out, doesn't it?” Barty said.