The successful march of the top-seeded players in the U.S. Open continued here Friday with contrasting degrees of drama.
But the big shocker of the night was Spain’s Rafael Nadal losing at 1:30 in the morning to unheralded Fabio Fognini of Italy after taking a two-set lead. It marks the first time in 10 years that the 14-time Grand Slam champion has not won at least one major in a year.
The score was 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, as the 32nd-seeded Fognini, who came into the Open with a nine-match losing streak, played the match of his life on the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.
The queen of drama, Serena Williams, who always seems to play with matches and seldom seems to get burned, got through the third of her needed seven steps to her 2015 tennis Grand Slam, beating another U.S. player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.
Until deep into the second set, Williams was erratic and unpredictable, much more so than one might expect of a player spending her 256th week at No. 1 in the world.
After she won, in front of an adoring Ashe Stadium crowd filled to its capacity of 22,547, ESPN’s Pam Shriver asked her on court why she kept living on the edge so much, frequently losing the first set.
Williams praised the strong play of Mattek-Sands, who is ranked No. 101 in the world, and added, “I’m not trying to live on the edge.”
In essence, it doesn’t matter. Williams has won the last four majors, has won the last three U.S. Opens and is on a 30-match Grand Slam winning streak. Her last loss in a major was at Wimbledon in 2014, when France’s Alize Cornet drove her crazy with drop shots.
Just as it came to pass this year at Wimbledon, Friday’s results brought the likelihood of yet another Williams sister matchup in a major. Venus Williams defeated a higher-seeded player, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 6-2, and she and Serena are each one victory from a quarterfinal matchup. Venus is seeded 23rd, Bencic 12th.
Serena didn’t take control of her match until, after failing to serve out the second set at 5-3, she broke Mattek-Sands on her third set point at 5-6.
Mattek-Sands took a break in the locker room for a few minutes before the start of the final set, then came back out and got a typical final-set Williams bludgeoning.
“She stepped up,” Mattek-Sands said. “She’s a great closer. She needs momentum. She needs to get pumped up.”
Williams said, “This is not something I want to do, but a win is a win.” She also said, “I just made a lot of errors. I had to play myself into the match.”
On the men’s side, No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a more routine advance to the fourth round.
He defeated Italy’s Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5, and keynoted his match in two quick sentences.
“He [Seppi] won against Federer earlier this year in Australia,” Djokovic said. “He’s a good player and it’s a good win.”
Feliciano Lopez, a big server from Spain, took out Milos Raonic, a bigger server from Canada. Lopez, who survived a dramatic five-setter in Mardy Fish’s final match Wednesday and said that Fish had played better and deserved to win, stunned the 10th-seeded Raonic, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-3. The left-handed Lopez is 33 and seeded 18th.
Also, No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain was ousted by No. 27 Jeremy Chardy of France, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Venus Williams will next face a qualifier, Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, who beat U.S. player Madison Brengle, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0. Serena Williams will face the other American named Madison, 19th-seeded Madison Keys, who beat the former No. 2 player in the world, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 6-3, 6-2.
Another high-profile women’s advance was made by Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who made three semifinals of the Grand Slams in 2014, but has slipped down the rankings this year. She got through a tough three-setter against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3.