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Breakout players at the 2014 US Open

Gael Monfils takes on Roger Federer on Day 11 of the 2014 US Open.
By Neil Schlecht
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Although a bevy of talented teenagers had breakout years in 2014 at the US Open, so did a number of wily veterans. USOpen.org takes a look at these mature rising stars who shook up the draw.

Gael Monfils: Everyone has long known Monfils, 28, possesses world-class, raw athletic talent and tennis skills. While he had reached the quarterfinals three times at his home Slam, the French Open and once at the US Open, most keen tennis observers waited and wished for the entertaining Frenchman to put together an even better run in a Slam. The 20th seed came within two points of doing so: He had two match points on Roger Federer’s serve in the quarterfinals, after taking down the rising star Grigor Dimitrov in the previous round. Even so, Monfils produced one of the most electric runs at this year’s US Open.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: In one of the stories of the tournament, the 32-year-old Croat, last heard from in earnest in these parts when she was a 17-year-old record-setter (winner of the US Open girls' singles championship and winner of the first WTA tournament she ever entered), notched two giant upsets in her unlikely return to the courts. Lucic-Baroni, ranked No. 119 in the world, surprised the 25th seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, one of the up-and-comers on the WTA tour, and then shocked the second seed, Simona Halep of Romania. She ran out of gas against Sara Errani in the round of 16 – but the 2014 US Open ranks as Lucic-Baroni’s greatest on-court achievement since reaching the Wimbledon semifinals all the way back in 1999 as a 17-year-old.

Victor Estrella Burgos: This vet made history at the Open: He was the first player from the Dominican Republic to compete in the main draw of the US Open, as well as, at 34, the oldest player to make his main-draw debut at a Grand Slam. The 5-foot-8 Estrella Burgos had the crowd – many of them Dominicans and other Latin Americans – going wild on Court 6, as the 80th-ranked player won his first match and then schooled 17-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia, the winner of last year’s US Open boys’ singles. The diminutive Dominican pushed the 6-foot-5, monster-serving Milos Raonic to the limit in the third round, losing in three successive tiebreaks.

Peng Shuai: Although her US Open ended with her writhing on the court with heat-related illness and cramps in the semifinals against Caroline Wozniacki, Peng instead should be remembered for her deep, unseeded run through the draw.  The 28-year-old beat No. 4 Aggie Radwanska in the first major upset of the tournament on the women’s side, then took down 14th seed Lucie Safarova and teen queen Belinda Bencic (who made her own mark in the draw). The Chinese player, who entered the US Open as just the third-ranked woman from China, previously had never made it past the round of 16 in a major.

Marin Cilic: Finalist Marin Cilic of Croatia, an upset winner over No. 2 Roger Federer, isn’t quite a next-gen young gun at 25 (he turns 26 in a couple of weeks). He’s been in the mix long enough and, at 6-foot-6, is so long and lanky that he only seems like he’s been around forever (he turned pro in 2005). The Big Chill had advanced to a Slam semifinal once before, at the 2010 Australian Open, so it’s not like we’d never heard from the Croat. But with former Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic in his box, Cilic has souped up his serve, transforming it into a real weapon. Playing calmly and confidently, the 14th seed smoothly dismantled the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer in straight sets to win his first major semifinal and give himself a great shot at equaling the tally of his buddy and mentor Ivanisevic.

Ekaterina Makarova: The 18th-ranked Russian, a former doubles specialist, broke through in both singles and doubles at this year’s US Open. Not only did she win the women's doubles title with partner and countrywoman Elena Vesnina, beating the Williams sisters en route to her second Slam doubles crown, Makarova, 26, reached the singles semifinals after convincing wins over Victoria Azarenka and the 7th-seeded “It Girl,” Canada’s 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard.

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