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Federer leads Day 9 field

No. 2 seed Roger Federer in action against Spain's Marcel Granollers in the third round.
By Mark Preston
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day 9 of the 2014 US Open features a lineup full of top talents and fan favorites, as the game’s biggest names begin the stretch run toward tennis’ toughest title. Two women’s quarterfinals and four fourth-round men’s matches are on tap today, providing the Flushing faithful with a day they’ll be talking about for years. On the men’s side, Roger Federer faces Roberto Bautista Agut, Gael Monfils takes on Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic plays Gilles Simon, and Tomas Berdych squares off with Dominic Thiem. The women’s quarters feature Peng Shuai versus Belinda Bencic and Caroline Wozniacki against Sara Errani. At this point in the tournament, every one of these players knows they’ve got to bring their best if they’re going to play another day. As the matches get tougher, so must the competitors.

There aren’t many in the game tougher than five-time US Open champion Federer, who’s competing here in an effort to add to his men’s record total of 17 Grand Slam singles titles. The second seed is second to none on virtually every page of the record book and now has reached the fourth round of this event for the 14th consecutive year. Federer owns a 69-9 record at the US Open, his .885 winning percentage the best in the Open era and second only to Bill Tilden’s mark of .910 in tournament history. Now 33, Federer is the oldest man to rank in the Top 3 of the men’s game since Andre Agassi – at the same age – was No. 1 in 2003. A Wimbledon finalist this year, Federer came to Flushing Meadows in fine form and has continued to shine through three rounds here. He did drop his first set of the event in his third-round encounter with Marcel Granollers but quickly turned the tables on the Spaniard after a rain delay to run away with a four-set, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win. He now takes on Bautista Agut, whose fourth-round appearance is his best-ever showing at the Open. The 26-year-old Spaniard, seeded No. 17, also reached the fourth round at January’s Australian Open and has been on a rapid rise this year. Now ranked No. 19, Bautista Agut has this year won two titles and reached two more semis. Since toughing out a first-round, five-set win, the Spaniard has advanced to this point without losing another set. This will be an interesting match – probably more interesting than the second seed would like. Federer will be tested, but there aren’t many tests for which he doesn’t already know the answers. Give the Spaniard a set, but Federer advances in four.

Dimitrov, the No. 7 seed, survived a serious scare in his third-round match against David Goffin, dropping the first set at love before rallying for a four-set win. The 23-year-old Bulgarian, who’d never won a main-draw match here in three previous tries, has looked very much like a legitimate contender for this title through the first week of this year’s Flushing fortnight. Dimitrov has this year won three titles and reached the semis at three more, including at Wimbledon, where he knocked off Andy Murray before losing to Djokovic in a four-set thriller. The big-hitting Bulgarian figures to be a factor at the sport’s largest events for years to come, with the game and the grit to go head-to-head with just about anyone. He’ll get to prove that today against Monfils, who’s looking to reach the quarters of this event for just the second time in his career. The Frenchman, who turned 28 yesterday, has for years been praised for his potential. But through his career, he’s often gotten lost in performing when he needed to be focused on playing. Through three matches here, Monfils seems to have found a new focus, and his straight-sets dismantling of his countryman Richard Gasquet in round three was evidence of that. Monfils won 84 percent of his first-serve points, broke Gasquet six times and got in 87 percent of his returns. This is the Monfils we always knew was there; it’s exciting now to see him here. This figures as a serious slugfest between two heavyweight talents. After a feisty four, it’s Monfils who’s still standing.

In ousting the No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, Wozniacki showed the brilliant movement and precision shot-making that allowed her to claim the year-end No. 1 ranking in 2010 and 2011. A finalist here in 2009, the 24-year-old Dane has been nothing short of great to this point, reaching the quarters at a major for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open. Wozniacki, who has been training to run the New York City marathon for charity in November, would no doubt first like to go the distance here. Standing in her way today is Errani, another woman who seems born to run. The diminutive Italian has been a big story through the first week of this event, knocking out two-time US Open champ Venus Williams en route to reaching her second major quarterfinal of the year. (She also made the quarters at Roland Garros.) Errani, whose best career US Open showing was a run to the semis in 2012, is a tireless competitor who covers the court like a blanket, getting back shot after shot until her opponent folds. This match has the makings of a marathon in its own right, and in a tightly contested three, Wozniacki dashes through to the semis.

It’s pretty safe to say that few predicted a Peng-Bencic meeting in the US Open quarterfinals, but one of the great things about this event is that each year it produces so many great surprises. The 28-year-old Peng, China’s No. 3 player, is into a Slam quarterfinal for the first time in her career. Her best previous performance here was a fourth-round showing in 2011. Peng has planted three seeds to reach this point, including No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 28 Roberta Vinci and No. 14 Lucie Safarova. Bencic has likewise removed three players with numbers next to their names – No. 31 Kurumi Nara, No. 6 Angelique Kerber and No. 9 Jelena Jankovic. The 17-year-old Bencic, competing in her first career US Open main draw, is the youngest player to reach the US Open quarterfinals since her Swiss countrywoman Martina Hingis accomplished the feat in 1997. And the fact that Bencic is coached by Hingis’ mom, Melanie Molitor, only adds another intriguing twist to a fascinating storyline. That story gets better today – in two, Bencic is into her first Slam semi.