US Open draw developing into tale of two halves in New York
It has broken down nicely into two very contrasting halves. In the bottom segment of the US Open draw, things have diverted little from the script.
Seeds two, three, and five sit contentedly in their quarter-final slots, dropping just one set between them in their fourth round contests.
Roger Federer cruised through Jurgen Melzer in straight sets.
Novak Djokovic found, in the end, little resistance from a Mardy Fish who had just one too many tournament finals weighing heavy in his slender legs.
Robin Soderling, facing an Albert Montanes in his first ever fourth round in a Slam, got off to a slow start. But having conceded the first set, he ripped off the next three in short order.
The fourth spot, on paper, should have gone to No6 seed Nikolay Davydenko, but he has barely regained his form after his long injury break.
Next in line might have been Andy Roddick, but he had suffered from glandular fever ahead of the tournament and from melt-down in his second round exit.
So it will fall to the Gallic flair of the athletic Gael Monfils to take on Djokovic in the quarters.
The top half of the draw -well that has been another story. Yes, the No1 seed, Rafael Nadal, has stood strong at the top, not a set dropped, not a serve broken. He will face only compatriots from fourth round until the semis as three more Spaniards fill his segment of the draw.
First up was fellow left-hander, the serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez. After that will be the winner between David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco: their dead-even record confirms it could be either who wins the dubious privilege of a Nadal quarter face-off.
But who would filter through to face the guaranteed man from Spain? Not the No4 seed Andy Murray, nor the No7 seed Tomas Berdych. Both were tipped as strong contenders for the final. Neither got beyond Round Three.
No, it was a quarter filled with a bevy of beautiful backhands: the single-handed variety. First, one more Spaniard, Tommy Robredo, took on the exciting Russian, Mikhail Youzhny, in a real crowd-pleaser of a match.
The two met at the Open in 2006, also in the fourth round: Youzhny crushed Robredo in 77 minutes. This time, it was a closer contest that showed off the all-court craft and elegance of two of the classiest players on the tour. But it was the 28-year-old Youzhny, attacking the net with great success, who took the match in four sets and three hours.
In that 2006 US Open, Youzhny went on to reach his only Slam semi-final downing Nadal along the way, and the two could meet again in this year’s semis. The 2010 Nadal, though, is a far better all-round player and would be favourite to take his revenge.
The match that brought most razzle-dazzle to the fourth round was the intense, punishing, high-quality battle between Stanislas Wawrinka and Sam Querrey.
If there were any doubts that the Swiss man could reproduce the quality of game he used to beat Murray, they were quickly allayed.
In the strong winds on Louis Armstrong, both men brought big serving and superb court coverage to a gripping contest that, quite rightly, reached one tie-break set apiece after two hours.
By mid-way through the third, it was still all square, as Wawrinka roared his defiance in breaking the American back to 3-3. Whether it comes from new confidence and a new coach, or from marriage and fatherhood, the usually restrained and undemonstrative Swiss has brought more passion and motivation to this tournament than he has since his heyday two years ago -his only entry into the top 10. He went on to break Querrey and take the third set, 7-5.
In the fourth, Querrey again went a break up, as the combined winners from the pair sailed past 50. There were break points aplenty as Wawrinka refused to let the set go. Querrey, though, the only remaining American in the draw, was cheered all the way to a 6-4 set. After more than three and a half hours, it was level again.
In the final set, Wawrinka -leg heavily bound as it had been against Murray -served first and, when it came to the key moment, at 5-4 up, he found some extra attack, chipped and charged against the Querrey serve and took some chances. He also took his second break point opportunity, and the match, 6-4.
Wawrinka has a singing, swinging backhand, one of the finest in tennis. It is delivered with a single right arm like a slap in the face from the glove of a man defending the honour of his betrothed. It sealed him countless outright winners in this match, including the last.
The win gives the single-handed backhand of the Swiss a place against the more graceful single-hander of Youzhny. Beyond that lies the Spanish Armada. But even further ahead is a very rare -and very slim -chance of an all-Swiss US Open final.