By Shannon Russell
Upsets abounded Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open as two of the top nine women’s seeds were ousted before the Round of 16 and wild card Frances Tiafoe upended fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev.
Third-seeded Angelique Kerber, a 2016 W&S Open finalist, lost to Ekaterina Makarova in a marathon three-set tiebreak while qualifier Ashleigh Barty dispatched ninth-seeded Venus Williams at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Tiafoe, a 19-year-old American ranked 87th on the ATP World Tour, raised his hands to a Center Court crowd ovation after securing the biggest win of his career. The 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory quashed No. 7 Zverev’s recent hot streak, which included tournament titles at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
“This is a big relief for me,” Tiafoe said. “We grew up together playing junior Grand Slams, playing Under-12s, Under-14s. I have known him for forever. Seeing him rise like that, I was, like, ‘Maybe I can do the same.’ Then he beat me twice, and was, like, ‘All right, maybe I can’t.’ So me beating him today made me feel pretty good.”
World No. 19 John Isner, who faces Tiafoe in an all-American Round of 16 match Thursday afternoon, praised his future foe Tuesday. He said Tiafoe always “rises to the occasion” in big matches.
That he did, feasting on Zverev’s 42 unforced errors while committing only 17 of his own. The fatigued Zverev accumulated seven double faults and four missed chances to convert break points in the loss.
Zverev said he simply ran out of steam.
“I just played, what, 12 matches in a two-week span? I have won one ATP 500 event and one ATP 1000 event in the last two weeks. I beat a lot of top-10 players and have beaten a lot of great players, a lot of tough matches,” Zverev said. “I’m not a machine. So I’m tired, yeah. There is no hiding it.”
Zverev also played W&S Open doubles with Leander Paes. They lost their first match.
So what’s next for the German player? Rest, and a lot of it.
“I’m going to take three, four days off and play a little bit of golf or go to the beach, something like that,” Zverev said. “Not touch the tennis racquet.”
Tiafoe said he looked forward to playing his good friend Isner and continuing his momentum. Their only prior meeting was at the 2016 US Open, a gritty five-set match that Isner won.
“I don’t want to stop now,” Tiafoe said. “I want to keep going and keep using this through the Open and try and finish the year.”
MILESTONE WIN: Barty entered the W&S Open with a 0-6 record against Top 10 opponents but broke through with a stunning victory over World No. 9 Williams.
Barty, 21, had to win two qualifying matches to advance to the main draw. The 48th-ranked player defeated Williams 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 in a nearly two-hour match on Center Court.
“It’s really exciting to have my first Top 10 win. I’ve lost a few of them but have been getting closer and closer. I think today we played more of a complete match,” Barty said.
“I served well, which was going to be really important. I think I was able to, at times, not get into Venus’ service games, but when I was able to, we tried to make the most of it. You know, I think my slice today was very effective as well.”
Williams had more double faults (6) than aces (3) while Barty amassed seven aces and 37 total winners to her foe’s 23.
Strong play has been the norm this year for Barty, who reached the Round of 16 at the Rogers Cup in Toronto and won her first WTA title at Kuala Lumpur.
“She found openings in the court, was super consistent, and she just played really well. I just have to give her credit,” Williams said.
Barty is also playing doubles at the W&S Open. After beating Williams in singles, she and Casey Dellacqua downed Daria Gavrilova and Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-1.
WINTER IS COMING: After winning back-to-back matches in the heat Tuesday and Wednesday, Madison Keys said she had big plans for Wednesday night – and they likely included Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister.
“I’m legitimately laying on the couch and watch movies, and that's about it,” Keys said. “What am I watching? Well, I’m super pumped Game of Thrones is back. Everything else is just kind of like reruns on Netflix because all of my shows are off at the moment.”
Keys earned the respite after eliminating Russian opponent Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 on Grandstand Court to start the day. The American improved to 3-0 all-time against Kasatkina by overcoming an early break and doling out efficiency and aggressiveness.
Keys advances to play World No. 6 Garbine Muguruza in the Round of 16. It’s rematch of the Stanford semifinals Aug. 5, which Keys won in straight sets.
LITERATURE-WORTHY MATCH: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. But eventually, for Makarova, it was a victory.
The Russian player converted an eighth match point to win a 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (11) thriller against World No. 3 Kerber on Grandstand Court. The match took 2 hours and 39 minutes but the final set alone, including the lengthy tiebreak, spanned 85 minutes.
It was the longest third-set tiebreak of the year in the WTA.
World No. 39 Makarova – who was ranked as high as No. 8 in 2015 – overcame 53 unforced errors and major leg cramping. She led 5-2 in the third set before Kerber roared back.
Asked if she worried that she’d lost her chance to close out the win, Makarova smiled.
“I was thinking, ‘If I lose this match, leading 5-2 and had match points, I will just kill myself,’” Makarova joked. “So this was kind of like, yeah, all the match points she had, I was, like, no. I will play my aggressive tennis. I’m not gonna give it to you.”
Makarova was so exhausted that she fell in a heap late in the match. Her legs jammed, but once she stood and moved around, she felt better.
Kerber faced one match point but spent more time trying to hold off Makarova.
“I think it was up-and-down match, and I was finding my rhythm actually in the second set. But I had the chance as well in the first set. She played well then,” Kerber said. “The third set was, yeah, a completely up-and-down set. She had chances; I had chances. In the end it was just one point which decide the match.”
Makarova and Elena Vesnina started the tournament in the doubles draw, too. They bowed out Wednesday evening, citing a right thigh injury Makarova sustained in the Kerber match.
Makarova tackled her cramps after the match by stretching, eating and drinking. She planned to undergo more treatment at her hotel.
Her next match, versus American wild card Sloane Stephens, is at 9 p.m. Thursday on Center Court. Although Stephens has a 2-0 career record against Makarova, the two have not played since 2014.
THE RACE FOR NO. 1: Five women’s players started the tournament with the chance to occupy the No. 1 spot in next week’s WTA rankings: Current No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 3 Kerber, No. 4 Elina Svitolina and No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki.
Now there are just three: Pliskova, Halep and Svitolina.
Kerber’s loss foiled her bid, and defending W&S Open champion Pliskova derailed Wozniacki’s chances with Wednesday’s 6-2, 6-3 defeat of lucky loser Natalia Vikhlyantseva.
Wozniacki needed three things to happen to claim No. 1 – for Pliskova to lose her first match, for Halep to lose before the semifinals and for herself to win the title.