The 10th day of action at the 2014 U.S. Open features just four matches, but all of them are high-stakes quarterfinal showdowns featuring some of the biggest stars in professional tennis at Flushing Meadows.
A nightcap clash between men's top seed Novak Djokovic and a surging Andy Murray will be the most highly anticipated match of the tournament thus far.
Don't sleep on Serena Williams battling Flavia Pennetta, though. Williams is seeking to continue her quest in redeeming a disappointing Grand Slam campaign with an 18th career major title and has yet to drop a set entering Wednesday.
With the initial semifinalists determined, it's worth reflecting on what's transpired thus far along with a look at what lies ahead in prime time.
Note: For complete stats and bracket information, visit USOpen.org.
|Victoria Azarenka (16) vs. Ekaterina Makarova (17)||Makarova wins 6-4, 6-2|
|Stan Wawrinka (3) vs. Kei Nishikori (10)||Nishikori wins 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4|
|Serena Williams (1) vs. Flavia Pennetta (11)||Williams wins 6-3, 6-2|
|Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Andy Murray (8)||TBD|
Ekaterina Makarova Defeats Victoria Azarenka
Just to get to this stage of the U.S. Open had to be a positive for 16th-seeded Azarenka. Although she may not see it that way now, her season has been stagnated by injuries for the most part.
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times hinted at the implications that Azarenka's loss will have for future tournaments as she seeks to regain her form:
Azarenka, twice a Slam singles champ, had to reach semis here to stay in top 20. She did not. Some tough early-round draws ahead— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 3, 2014
Azarenka had made the U.S. Open final the previous two years only to lose to Williams on each occasion. A key turning point in Wednesday's match came when Makarova was pushed to deuce but held serve and then broke Azarenka to take the set.
Follow the official U.S. Open video below to see how Makarova closed out with the advantage to go up 5-4 in the first with a booming forehand:
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg alluded to a potential factor that may have set Azarenka back even more:
Azarenka's PR guy comes by to tell us that Vika had food poisoning yesterday, was vomiting, didn't practice. "No excuses," he adds. #usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 3, 2014
But Makarova deserves praise for making it here as a No. 17 seed and had to overcome erratic serving (50 percent of first serves in) to get the 6-4, 6-2 straight-sets win.
Facing the winner of Pennetta and Williams, likely the latter superstar, will be no easy task for Makarova. Her left-handed grip gives her a unique advantage, yet she is still making her first Grand Slam semifinal appearance.
Makarova's inexperience on this grand of a stage will give Williams an edge, presuming she continues her romp through the women's draw. It will set up a final faceoff between Williams and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, which should be well-received as Wozniacki chases her maiden major.
Preview: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Two of the four brightest men's stars will tangle in what will be a rematch of both the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Wimbledon championship matches. Murray won at Flushing Meadows and at the All England Club in those prior encounters.
That these two are meeting in the quarterfinals is a result of both Rafael Nadal not being in action and the No. 8-seeded Murray not quite playing up to his standards in 2014. Whether battling a player with a similar game to his in Djokovic brings out Murray's best remains to be seen.
"I would say we play a fairly similar style, and I think that's why a lot of the matches have been long games, long rallies, long points, because we do a lot of the same things well," said Murray, via USA Today's Douglas Robson.
Djokovic defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year and may well encounter him in the final for a second straight Grand Slam event—unless Murray has something to say about it.
Sky Sports News tweeted how lopsided this rivalry has been as of late on hard courts, with The Serbinator owning a commanding advantage:
BBC Tennis compared how the two have fared at this event in particular:
To advocate for Murray, he hasn't had his best stuff yet this season and has little to lose at this point. Expectations aren't quite as high on him, while Djokovic is seeking to cement his status as the best player in the world amid a highly competitive era. That should, by default, carry this match to at least four sets.
Which No. 1 seed is least likely to win the 2014 U.S. Open?
A final between Djokovic and Federer is what many would love to see, but Murray could redeem a largely lost 2014 campaign by upsetting Djokovic. However, Murray appears more destined for a rebound in 2015 rather than something as immediate as winning this year's U.S. Open trophy.
With more competitive reps still to come, a longer time to adjust to new coach Amelie Mauresmo and a fresh slate to start with, next season should see Murray come back into his own. At this point, he isn't quite ready to take down a player of Djokovic's caliber just yet. Wednesday's grand finale will be an exciting battle, but one that Djokovic will emerge victorious in.
Prediction: Djokovic defeats Murray 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.