The bottom half of the women’s draw went from chalk to churned in a matter of minutes on Day 5. In sudden succession, Venus Williams lost in a third-set tiebreak to Sara Errani; No. 2 seed Simona Halep, one of the pre-tournament favorites, fell to qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni; and No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber went down to rising star Belinda Bencic.
The result? Chaos. The beneficiary? Former Open finalist Jelena Jankovic, who cruised past Johanna Larsson, 6-1, 6-0, in the day’s first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium and now has a road to the semifinals in which No. 14 Lucie Safarova is the highest seed. Until Friday, Safarova had never before made it past the third round in New York.
Throw in earlier losses by No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 8 Ana Ivanovic and half of the projected women’s quarterfinalists and five of the Top 12 seeds have already booked tickets out of town.
Lost among the happenings on the women’s side was the continued brilliant play of Grigor Dimitrov, who entered this year’s Open 0-3 in Flushing Meadows but who has lost just 15 games in six sets thus far. His potential quarterfinal opponent, Roger Federer, has been pretty impressive as well, dropping 25 games, no sets and two Aussies on his way to Round 3.
Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 6 of the 2014 US Open:
Match of the Day: In a match that was as bizarre as it was riveting, Sara Errani and Venus Williams traded bagels and then traded blows, turning a laugher into a barnburner that ended with Errani pumping her fists and screaming Djokovic-style at the end of 6-0, 0-6, 7-6 victory. After a miserable start, Williams looked well on her way to a victory, running off seven consecutive games at one point and serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set. But Errani is one of the toughest – and fittest – competitors on the women’s tour, and she wouldn’t relent, tracking down booming Venus forehands and unfurling an array of drop shots and looping backhands that kept the elder Williams sister on the move and off the attack. At 5-5 in the tiebreak, Errani snared a seemingly winning passing shot for a well-placed backhand volley, and she advanced with a cross-court forehand winner that brought the crowd, in Venus’ corner throughout, to its feet.
Player of the Day: Get to know Belinda Bencic – she’s going to be around for a while. The Swiss teenager, who is coached by Melanie Molitor, the mom/mentor of Martina Hingis, has enjoyed a terrific opening week at this year’s Open, highlighted by her 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 6 seed and 2011 US Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber on Friday. Before that, she knocked off another former US Open semifinalist, Yanina Wickmayer, in the first round, and backed that up with a three-set win over the underrated Kurumi Nara, the No. 31 seed. Bencic has the junior chops to back up her pro success, having won the French Open and Wimbledon girls’ singles titles in 2013 and twice reaching the girls’ doubles final here. Throw in an appearance in the Charleston semifinals earlier this year, where she defeated Sara Errani en route, and a third-round showing at Wimbledon, and Bencic is ticketed for the Top 30 by year’s end – maybe sooner depending on how she fares the rest of the way here.
Upset of the Day: The last time Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the round of 16 at a Grand Slam event, her opponent on Friday, second seed Simona Halep, was 6 years old. (Tournament darling CiCi Bellis, for the record, was two months old at the time.) Since then Lucic-Baroni has retired, come back, gotten married (thus the hyphen) and hit the Challenger circuit and the qualifying draws. It all came together on Day 5, when the former teen phenom turned 32-year-old grinder stunned Halep, the French Open finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist, 7-6, 6-2. With the victory, Lucic-Baroni becomes just the fourth qualifier in the last 30 years to reach the fourth round in the women’s singles, joining Anna Kournikova (1996), Anna-Lena Groenefeld (2008) and Camila Giorgi (2013). Another upset on Sunday, against No. 13 seed Sara Errani, and Lucic-Baroni will join Barbara Gerken (1981) as the only female qualifiers in tournament history to advance to the quarterfinals.
Quote of the Day: “He's got an aura because of how good his tennis is. Yes, there’s an aura because of what he’s done, but his tennis speaks for itself. You don't win 17 Grand Slams if your tennis is not that good.” – Sam Groth, on the mystique of Roger Federer, after falling to the five-time US Open champion Friday night
Looking Ahead: While Friday was most decidedly Ladies’ Day at the Open, the men will have their chance to shine as the Labor Day weekend dawns. The stars will be out, headlined by Novak Djokovic taking on American Sam Querrey and Andy Murray facing Andrey Kuznetsov, but the eyes of the tennis cognoscenti will be on John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber – the mismatched pair who are improbably playing each other in the third round of the US Open for the third year in a row. The German has won the previous two, including a 2012 affair that wrapped up at 2:26 a.m., tied for the latest finish in Open history. Mercifully, they are scheduled for the day session on Saturday.
Elsewhere around the grounds, high-energy teenager Nick Kyrgios will make his US Open night-match debut against 30-something Tommy Robredo, and Canadian bomber Milos Raonic will take on the best story of the men’s side thus far: 34-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos, who earlier this tournament became the first Dominican player to win a match at a Grand Slam event.
In women’s action, Serena Williams will continue in her march to single-handedly eliminate the rest of the Americans in this year’s women’s draw when she takes on Varvara Lepchenko, having already defeated Taylor Townsend in the first round and Vania King in the second. Also playing Saturday are a pair of two-time Grand Slam champions, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, while Eugenie Bouchard will look to continue her run toward a first Slam crown when she takes on Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the first match of the evening session.