Maria Sakkari stars in late show at U.S. Open; teen sensation Leylah Fernandez advances to semis

By Helene Elliott

NEW YORK — It was a late one, even for the city that never sleeps.

The fourth-round match between No. 6 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada and No. 17 Maria Sakkari of Greece ended at 2:13 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday, the latest-ever finish of a women's singles match at the U.S. Open. The previous latest finish was 1:46 a.m. in a 2016 match between Madison Keys and Alison Riske.

Sakkari ended Andreescu's 10-match winning streak in U.S. Open play by defeating the 2019 champion 6-7 (2), 7-6 (6), 6-3 and earning a place in the quarterfinals against Karolina Pliskova. The match was 3 hours, 30 minutes of physically demanding, pound-the-ball tennis, capped by Sakkari starting her post-match media session at 2:30 a.m. And she isn't a night person.

"I actually think I have a very bad record with night matches. When I found out [Sunday] I'm playing night, I was not happy at all because I'm an early morning person. I still haven't figured out how I have to plan my day," she said.

"But Tom [Hill, her coach] was like, 'Before the match, I'm giving you my word that after this match, you'll change your mind from night matches,' and he's right.

"Now, well, I can say that it happened, that I played tennis at 2:30 in the morning."

In Tuesday's opening match, No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia ended the remarkable run of qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. Medvedev had to work for his 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 victory, which included the first set he has lost in five matches. On Tuesday, Medvedev committed 24 unforced errors to 35 by van de Zandschulp. Medvedev committed 32 forced errors to 50 by van de Zandschulp, who is ranked 117th in the world

Andreescu was limping badly by the end of her match and often falling because of an apparent problem with her left thigh. She received medical treatment in the third set. She lands on her left leg when she serves, and she could be seen wincing when she had to push off on that leg or land on it.

Andreescu said in a statement released by the Women's Tennis Association that she had experienced leg cramps and also felt the impact of sliding and falling on her groin.

She was prepared for a tough match, she said, and she got one.

"I was expecting that, and I went out there with the right mind-set, I think, and I did the best that I could," she said. "I wish I could have finished it in two sets, because I had my opportunities, but tennis is just like that sometimes.

"I take everything from this tournament and I just look at it like, 'Wow, I really fought through that.' That was crazy. ... I just kept fighting, and for me that's all that matters. I did my best."

Sakkari said the momentum shifted in the middle of the second set, after she decided she had been too passive.

"I think in the first set especially I was not going for my shots like I normally do. I was a little bit, you know, not very confident with my groundstrokes," she said. "I said, 'Maria, if you want to win this match, you have to go for it. It's better if you go for it and miss than just make balls, she hits winners.' "

She credited her work with a psychologist for helping her rebuild her confidence after a 6-2, 6-2 loss to Angelique Kerber at the Cincinnati Masters tournament three weeks ago. "After my loss with Angie, I just practiced for two weeks. I had some very tough practices where I was crying because I could not feel my shots, I could not feel my tennis. But thankfully I had Tom and Yannis, my hitting partner, that supported me a lot," she said.

"I lost my identity. That's how I called it. I lost myself, part of myself. With my psychologist as well, I found a way to come back and feel again what I felt out there today. By telling myself to be more brave, it's not like, 'Maria, now be brave,' and you're brave. It's just a process in practice and everything that has helped me to be more brave."

Sakkari and Pliskova split their previous two tour-level matches. Pliskova, the No. 4 seed from the Czech Republic, is a former world No. 1. She was the Wimbledon runner-up this year, losing a three-set final to Ashleigh Barty, and she has never won a Grand Slam event singles title.

"She has played [the] final here. She has some experience, more experience than me," Sakkari said. "But I'm just going to stick to what I'm doing best, try to return as good as I can, because that's I think the most important thing against Karolina. Just keep fighting, that's it. That can take you far."

Leylah Fernandez scores huge upset over No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina

Leylah Fernandez of Canada extended her string of impressive efforts and upsets at the U.S. Open, reaching the semifinals despite not being seeded in the tournament.

Again showing poise and purpose, the 19-year-old left-hander carved out a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) quarterfinal victory over No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on Tuesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In previous rounds, she upset defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.

"I honestly have no idea what I'm feeling right now," she said during an on-court interview. She then thanked the enthusiastic crowd, saying: "Throughout the whole match, I was so nervous. Thanks to you, I was able to push through today."

Fernandez is the daughter of an Ecuadorian father and Canadian mother who is of Filipino descent. Her father, Jorge, also is her coach, but he hasn't been in New York for her astonishing run. They often speak to discuss strategy, and Fernandez said her father told her before Tuesday's match to go out and have fun, as he always does. But he also told her something that resonated with her.

"Today is your first quarterfinal. Don't make it your last," she said he instructed her. "Fight for your dream."

Fernandez is one of several Canadian players who have reached the late rounds here. Bianca Andreescu was eliminated in the quarterfinals, and Felix Auger-Aliassime was scheduled to face Carlos Alcaraz of Spain in a quarterfinal later Tuesday. Jokingly asked by TV personality on-court interviewer Rennae Stubbs what Canadian kids are being fed that's making them such good tennis players, Fernandez played along. "I would say it's the maple syrup," she said. "Canadian maple syrups are very good."


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