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Nadal, Del Potro, Serena, Stephens into US Open last 8, dad-to-be Isner keeps home hopes alive

Dominic Thiem is the first Austrian in the last-eight at the US Open since Thomas Muster in 1996.

Rafael Nadal (SPA) plays his fourth round match at the 2018 US Open.
Rafael Nadal (SPA) plays his fourth round match at the 2018 US Open.
Image: Dubreuil Corinne/ABACA

DEFENDING CHAMPION RAFAEL Nadal on Sunday reached the US Open quarter-finals for the eighth time where he will face Dominic Thiem, one of only three men to defeat him in 2018.

World number one Nadal saw off a battling Nikoloz Basilashvili, the first Georgian in a fourth round in New York, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-4.

“It’s a big victory for me,” said the 32-year-old Nadal, the champion in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

“He was hitting the ball very strong and when I thought I was in control of the points, he always came back with strong shots.”

It was world number 37 Basilashvili’s strength, however, which proved his undoing.

His 56 winners were erased by 59 unforced errors, three times as many as Nadal.

Elsewhere, Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, beat Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 to make the last-eight for a third successive year.

The third seeded Argentine will next face John Isner, the last American man standing, who defeated Milos Raonic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, taking his tournament aces total past the 100-mark.

Thiem, who beat Nadal on clay in Madrid in the run-up to Paris, booked his place in the quarter-finals for the first time with a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) win over 2017 runner-up Kevin Anderson.

The ninth-seeded Austrian’s three other appearances in the last-eight of a Slam were all on Paris clay in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Nadal leads their head-to-head 7-3 with all of their matches coming on clay courts, including in the final of Roland Garros in June when he captured an 11th French Open.

“Thiem is a great opponent, he has the big serve and he had a big win today against Kevin,” said Nadal who has made the last-eight of every Slam in the same year for the first time since 2011.

Thiem has unfinished business at the US Open. 

Last year, he had two match points against del Potro in the fourth round but fell in five sets.

– ‘Against Rafa? I’m not sure’ –

Thiem’s progress to the last-eight comes despite choosing to play European clay court events after Wimbledon before then losing his only summer hard court outing in Cincinnati to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

He is the first Austrian in the last-eight at the US Open since Thomas Muster in 1996. 

“Against Rafa, I’ve had three very nice experiences and seven horrible experiences,” said Thiem who turns 25 on Monday.

“On clay, it’s one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy. I hope that it’s a little bit more comfortable on hard court, but I’m not sure.”

Third-seeded del Potro made the last-eight for the sixth time against Croatian 20th seed Coric who was playing in his maiden last 16 of a Slam.

Coric, 21, saw his challenge undone by a right thigh injury which needed two visits by the trainer as well as general unhappiness with the humidity of the Arther Ashe court.

“To win in straight sets in every round is good for the body and physical condition,” said del Potro.

“But every round is a battle. I just hope to keep my level high against John in the next match.”

Isner reached the quarter-finals for the first time in seven years and hailed the patriotic tournament atmosphere as a “jungle.”

Isner, the 11th seed, is attempting to become the first home winner since Andy Roddick in 2003.

“There were a lots of ups and downs in the match. The atmosphere was like a jungle,” said Isner of the crowd on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium enjoying a raucous Labor Day weekend.

Isner, 33, who will become a father for the first time in two weeks, said he will not fear del Potro even though he has lost to the Argentine star seven times in 11 meetings.

Their most recent clash saw del Potro triumph in straight sets in the fourth round at Roland Garros this year.

“Why not me? Let’s keep going,” said Isner after firing 56 winners past Raonic and 20 aces taking his ace count to a tournament-leading 112.

US Open - 4th Round Sloane Stephens (USA) plays her fourth round match at the 2018 US Open. Source: Dubreuil Corinne/ABACA

Six-time champion Serena Williams survived a spirited challenge from unseeded Kaia Kanepi to triumph 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday and reach the quarter-finals of the US Open.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion looked set to romp home when she seized the first set from Kanepi in just 18 minutes.

But the hard-hitting Estonian, who took out world number one Simona Halep in the first round, settled down in the second set, shaking off the partisan crowd in a jammed Arthur Ashe Stadium to push Williams the rest of the way.

“It wasn’t an easy match at all,” said Williams, who let out what she called a “Serena scream” after ripping a backhand cross court to hold serve in the opening game of the third set.

“Winning a big game and a very important game and a really tight game, I think it was just a relief,” said Williams, who took control with a break in the next game and maintained that advantage until she fired a forehand winner on her first match point.

Williams finished with 18 aces and 47 total winners. A couple of loose points gifted Kanepi a break in the first game of the second set, however, and she couldn’t get back on terms.

Williams double-faulted on break point to send Kanepi up 5-2. The American would win the next two games, but she couldn’t find another break and after fighting off two set points saw Kanepi knot the match on her third chance.

“She’s had a lot of big wins in her career. I was just happy to get through it to be honest,” Williams said.

Williams booked a quarter-final date with Karolina Pliskova, the eighth-seeded Czech who beat Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-4.

Pliskova defeated Williams in the semi-finals in New York in 2016.

Defending champion Sloane Stephens, the third seed, eased past Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-3 to book a quarter-final rematch with Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.

Sevastova toppled seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 1-6, 6-0, leaving just two of the top 10 women’s seeds remaining.

Stephens, runner-up to Halep at the French Open, was looking forward to taking on Sevastova again in her bid to push ahead in her title defense.

“Obviously it won’t be easy,” she said. “Quarter-finals of a Grand Slam is always really tough. A big opportunity for both of us. Being defending champion, being able to get to the quarter-finals again, is incredible. I’m just going to try to keep building on that and keep going.”

Sevastova, in the quarters for a third straight year, is hoping to turn the tables on Stephens, who is trying to become the first woman to win back-to-back US Open titles since Williams won three straight in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“Maybe third time lucky for me,” Sevastova said.

- ‘Interesting match’ -

Stephens could be headed for a semi-final meeting with Williams, although Williams acknowledged that in Pliskova she’ll face a player with plenty of weapons in addition to her big serve.

“She has a really good forehand. In fact, she doesn’t do a lot of things bad,” Williams said.

Plislkova’s runner-up finish to Kerber in the 2016 US Open remains her best Grand Slam finish, but Williams noted she briefly gained the number one world ranking last year.

“She got there for a reason, she has a lot of strong parts to her game,” Williams said. “It will be an interesting match.”

Pliskova was looking forward to it, too.

“I know she has a big game, but I have a big game too. I have a good serve. So I have some weapons, too. For sure, there is always a chance for me.”

Williams heads into the second week at Flushing Meadows tracking two milestones: A seventh US Open title would see her break out of a tie with Chris Evert for the Open Era record and also equal Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major titles.

She hasn’t won a major since the 2017 Australian Open. After returning to competition in March after the birth of daughter Olympia last September, Williams is trying to avoid her first season since 2011 without a Grand Slam title.

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