NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka was upset 7-5 6-4 by Belinda Bencic at the US Open on Monday as the Japanese lost her grip on both her title and number one status while the Swiss reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for the second time.
Bencic got off to a bright start on a rainy day in New York, breaking the world number one under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and her superior serving carried the day as she won 82% of her first serve points.
Momentum swung firmly in the 22-year-old Bencic’s direction in the second set when Osaka double faulted to hand the 13th seed a 3-2 lead and the top-seeded Japanese, who appeared to struggle with a troublesome left knee, was unable to recover.
Bencic improved to 3-0 this year against the 21-year-old Osaka, who came through an emotional straight sets win over 15-year-old American Coco Gauff in the third round on Saturday.
Osaka’s defeat means Australia’s Ash Barty, who lost in straight sets to China’s Wang Qiang in the fourth round on Sunday, will regain the world number one spot from the Japanese.
Osaka said that although she was disappointed with Monday’s result she still considered her trip to New York a success.
Bencic, who also reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2014 when she was just 17 but has struggled with injuries in recent years, said that taking Osaka’s powerful serve early and keeping her energy up was the key to winning the match.
“I was so excited to come on the court, the challenge could not be bigger so I had to be on top of my game,” she said in an on-court interview.
Despite the lack of a big serve, Bencic played fluently, finishing with 29 winners to just 12 unforced errors and breaking Osaka three times.
Osaka’s loss comes the day after top seed Novak Djokovic fell to another Swiss, Stan Wawrinka.
Next up for Bencic is a meeting with Croatia’s 23rd seed Donna Vekic, who beat Germany’s Julia Goerges 6-7(5) 7-5 6-3 on Louis Armstrong Stadium court earlier on Monday.
RAFA OUTWITS CILIC
Rafa Nadal faced his stiffest challenge yet at the US Open but raised his game to beat Marin Cilic 6-3 3-6 6-1 6-2 on Monday and continue his quest for a fourth Flushing Meadows title.
The second-seeded Spaniard was in cruise control as he took the first set behind some superb serving and stout defence but the big-hitting Croatian battled back to snatch the second.
That was as good as it would get for Cilic, however, the momentum shifting decisively in Nadal’s favour when he jumped in the air to hit a spectacular overhead smash that electrified the crowd.
Cilic would double fault later in the game to give Nadal a 3-1 lead and he would never threaten again on a hot and humid night in New York, with Tiger Woods among the star-studded crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium cheering on the Spaniard.
Nadal fired a forehand winner on match point to seal the victory and make his 40th quarterfinal at a Grand Slam event.
The 33-year-old has had a relatively stress-free time at the tournament so far, dropping just one set and getting a walkover in the second round.
Next up for the 18-time Grand Slam champion is a meeting with Argentine Diego Schwartzman, who toppled Alexander Zverev in their round of 16 clash earlier in the day.
The diminutive Argentine has faced Nadal seven times and lost every meeting but has proven a difficult test in the slams, forcing the Spaniard to go four tough sets at the 2018 Australian and French Opens.
Nadal is on a collision course with third seed Roger Federer and could meet his old rival in Sunday’s final if both players advance. Federer faces Grigor Dimitrov in the quarters on Tuesday. — Reuters