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Day 9 Recap: Fed and Woz impress, Monfils and Peng roll on

Roger Federer during a fourth-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
By E.J. Crawford
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Monday at the US Open bled into Tuesday at the US Open, with play wrapping up at 2:26 a.m. Mercifully, Tuesday’s Day 9 performances were over before bedtime, concluding just shy of 11 p.m.

And so it goes in one of the most bizarre US Opens in recent memory, where Peng Shuai marches on while seeds Nos. 2-9 were gone after the round of 16, where the 2011 and 2012 men’s singles champions (Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) will meet in the quarterfinals, and where Gael Monfils plays it straight – and plays out of his mind.

As it turns out, Day 9 at the US Open was a good one on which to be tall and thin, with a booming serve, free-swinging forehand and a double-fisted backhand. Oh, and to be Roger Federer. It’s always good to be Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro continued to cruise through the 2014 US Open, on Tuesday dismissing the event’s last remaining Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, in a routine straight-sets night affair.

In doing so, Federer did what he could not do a year ago: advance to the US Open quarterfinals. And on this day he was joined by a trio of small forwards in tennis shoes – Marin Cilic (6-foot-6), Monfils (6-5) and Tomas Berdych (6-5) – who took the difficult (Cilic), competitive (Monfils) and easy (Berdych) routes, respectively, into the round of eight.

Of course, no one had an easier day than Caroline Wozniacki. In a matchup that was expected to be a three-set, three-hour marathon, the great Dane ran through Sara Errani like she was late for another engagement, dismissing the dogged Italian, 6-0, 6-1, to set up a who-could-have-predicted-that semifinal against unseeded Peng Shuai, the 28-year-old veteran who has been nothing short of sensational in her run to this year’s final four.

Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 10 of the 2014 US Open:

Match of the Day: Marin Cilic and Gilles Simon do not play easy, straight-forward matches. Ever. The two men had played each other four times entering the Open, with each match going the maximum number of sets – three times three sets and once five--at this year’s Australian Open. To cement their mutual consistency, each match had ended with the same result: a Simon victory. On Day 9, the match went the same, but Cilic finally flipped the script on the result. The lanky Croat and the counter-punching Frenchman played for 4 hours, 13 minutes – just six minutes shy of Nishikori-Raonic for the longest match of the tournament – before the No. 14 seed finally pulled away, securing a late break and serving out a back-and-forth, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory that delivers him into the Flushing round of eight for the third time in his career.

Player of the Day: Peng Shuai has not only been surprising at this year’s US Open. She has been dominant. The 28-year-old, who entered the event ranked No. 39 in the world, grabbed the headlines by knocking off three seeds in succession – No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 28 Roberta Vinci and No. 14 Lucie Safarova. But as she demonstrated in Tuesday’s 6-2, 6-1 dismantling of teen idol Belinda Bencic, the upsets are only part of the story. With Monica Seles-style double-fisted blasts off both sides, Peng has not even come close to losing a set thus far, never being pushed harder than 6-4 in any of the 10 sets she’s played. In all, she’s lost just 30 games in five matches, an average of six games per match that is bested only by Serena Williams, who has lost 17 games through four matches (an average of just over four per contest). Peng is now in uncharted territory – she’s never before advanced to the semifinals of a Grand Slam – so the issue is whether she’ll be overwhelmed by the occasion – or whether she’ll just continue to overwhelm her opponents.

Upset of the Day: Seemingly out of nowhere, Gael Monfils is playing the best tennis of his life. Long known as much for his charisma and otherworldly athleticism, the Frenchman is suddenly crushing every seed in his path. His victim on Tuesday was No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov, a popular sleeper title pick coming into the tournament. The talented 23-year-old Bulgarian simply had no answer for the world No. 24, playing him tough but ultimately coming up short in the big moments. The 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 result comes after “Sliderman” flattened fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the No. 12 seed and a 2013 semifinalist, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, in Round 3. With the back-to-back one-sided upsets, Monfils joins top seed Novak Djokovic as the only two men who have yet to lose a set at this year’s event. And now the man who entered Flushing Meadows with only five match victories in four tournaments since the French Open has four for this fortnight alone – and he has his sight sets on a third consecutive upset, of No. 2 Roger Federer, on Thursday.

Quote of the Day: “I have proven people wrong so many times. I was told when I was younger there is no chance I will make the Top 100, Top 50, Top 30. Every time I have proven them wrong. It’s kind of nice.” – Caroline Wozniacki, on whether she’s answered her critics with her run to the 2014 US Open semifinals

Looking Ahead: The highlight of Day 10 is the matchup of former US Open champions Novak Djokovic (2011) and Andy Murray (2012). The two are not accustomed to playing each other here prior to Finals Weekend, but injury and inconsistency have driven Murray to the back end of the Top 10, setting up this quarterfinal clash. The Scot’s play has been somewhat spotty this tournament, but he authored perhaps his best match of the year in defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round. He will need to replicate that performance to test the top seed and five-time finalist, whom he topped here in 2012 to capture his first Grand Slam title.

Sharing the night-time bill on Wednesday are world No. 1 Serena Williams, the only Top 8 seed who advanced to the women’s quarterfinals, and No. 11 Flavia Pennetta, who is playing in a US Open quarterfinal for the fifth time in her career. (She is 1-3 in the round, and 0-5 against Williams in their careers.) And in action on Day 10 are Kei Nishikori, who will try to bounce back from his five-set, four-hour-plus win in the fourth round over Milos Raonic – the root cause of Day 8’s 2:26 a.m. finish – when he faces No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka, and the women’s quarterfinal between red-hot Ekaterina Makarova and two-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka.