US Open 2022: Rublev ends Norrie hopes with ruthless tennis to reach quarters
Nadal continues campaign to regain No1, but Alcaraz and Ruud still in the hunt
There were milestones and records across the entire men’s draw as the last 16 players tried to seal a quarter-final place in the last Major in the calendar, the US Open.
First up, defending champion and world No1 Daniil Medvedev failed to defend his title, and conceded that No1 ranking into the bargain.
The man who beat him, 27-year-old Nick Kyrgios—as talented as he is unpredictable—was ranked 132 in March, but had subsequently put together the best season of his career: a first Major final at Wimbledon, and a tour-leading 26 wins since the start of the grass season in June. Now he was into his first US quarter-final, and one match-win away from doing the same in doubles.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Casper Ruud had extended his own record to become not just the first Norwegian to reach the third and then the fourth rounds, but now the first to the quarters of the US Open. It was the latest in a run of Norwegian firsts for the former junior No1: breaking into the top five, winning a main-tour title, qualifying for the ATP Finals, reaching the final of a Masters (2022 Miami) and the final of a Major final (2022 Roland Garros).
Remarkably, Ruud could now end this US Open as Norway’s first Major champion and, if he did, its first No1—but more of that later.
Frances Tiafoe, age 24, aimed to become the youngest American man to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Andy Roddick in 2006—but would have to beat four-time champion Rafael Nadal, 12 years his senior, to achieve it.
Carlos Alcaraz, at the age of 19, hoped to become the youngest man to reach back-to-back US Open quarter-finals since Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall in 1952 and 1953 respectively; that is, in the pre-Open era.
Jannik Sinner, age 21, would try to become the youngest man to complete the set of four different Major quarter-finals since a 20-year-old Novak Djokovic in 2008.
And if Sinner did so, he would join Matteo Berrettini to become the first ever pair of Italian men to reach the same US Open quarter-finals, dating back to 1881.
So from the youngest players to the oldest, and the only two former US champions—indeed Major champions—left in the draw.
Marin Cilic, almost 34, seemed to have regained some of the US magic that took the Croat into the top 10 for the first time in 2014 when he became one of the tournament’s youngest champions. It heralded a golden period that lasted almost five years, saw him reach two more Major finals and win his lone Masters title in Cincinnati.
His problem was that he now played Alcaraz, 14 years younger and riding a truly outstanding 12 months that began, arguably, with his quarter-final run at the US Open last year. The teenager had beaten Cilic in both their meetings this year, both in hard-court Masters and in straight sets, and had notched up more wins in 2022 than anyone else, 47 of them.
Stir into the equation that the teen had yet to drop a set in the tournament, nor even face a tie-break, while Cilic had survived a four-hour, four-set battle against Dan Evans in the third round, and the odds looked heavily stacked.
What is more, Alcaraz was also a contender to become No1, and could become the youngest ever to do so.
However, the chances of both Ruud and Alcaraz lay firmly at the feet of the oldest man left, Nadal. If the 36-year-old Spaniard continued his unbeaten 2022 Grand Slam run, currently standing at 22-0—he won the Australian and French Opens, and withdrew injured ahead of the semis at Wimbledon—he would reclaim the No1 ranking that he last held two and a half years ago. He would also extend his record number of Majors to 23 and become the oldest US men’s champion since Bill Tilden in 1929.
All Nadal had to do was reach the final to guarantee No1, even if one of the young stars won the title.
In his way? Home favourite Tiafoe, a big personality with a big game. And even if Nadal lost to Tiafoe in this fourth round, Alcaraz and Ruud would have to make the final to overtake him.
First up, though, were No7 seed Cam Norrie and No9 seed Andrey Rublev. Briton Norrie had already gone further in New York than ever before, in what was becoming another fine season after his run to his first Major semi at Wimbledon. Indeed if he made it to the quarters, he was on his way to consolidating another ranking rise to a career-high No8.
He and Rublev had split their two previous matches, but had never played in a best-of-five match, and the Russian had already had to survived two grueling five-set wins: Norrie had not dropped a set.
A few games into this third meeting, though, Norrie and Rublev were going flat out from the baseline, now a winner from the Briton, now from the Russian. One 35-stroke rally was finished with a searing backhand down the line from Rublev and he ultimately held, 4-4, but both were sweating heavily in the humid conditions.
Perhaps the efforts of that high-tempo game had drained some energy from Norrie, and Rublev kept up the pace to break. Norrie swiftly removed his shirt in an attempt to dry off, having already changed the grip on his racket, but the Russian went on to serve it out, 6-4.
Rublev let Norrie off the hook in the first game of the second set, making errors on break point, but the Briton scattered errors—he was up to an uncharacteristic 17 already—and looked rushed. He conceded the break, 2-1.
Rublev then had to battle through deuce, picked up a time violation, and double faulted to face break point, but he found a stunning angled forehand winner to hold after eight minutes.
There was a difficult hiatus as rain began to fall, and the roof was supposed to close—but it did not. After eight minutes, they continued to play, and Rublev impressed with a quick hold. But with the rain now heavier, the roof did indeed begin to close, and they would wait another 20 minutes to begin again.
Now, Rublev’s serve was tight, but he pushed through to hold for the set, 6-4. Norrie was broken quickly in the third, too, but after smashing his racket in disgust—a rare show of emotion from the Briton—he channelled that emotion into his best game of the match to break back.
Norrie ran Rublev ragged and drew huge ovations from the packed Armstrong arena. However, the Russian did not hold back, held to love, and worked three break chances. He converted the last with a cracking cross-court winner, and served it the win, 6-4, to reach his third US Open quarter-final.
The length of the match, almost two and a half hours, showed the contest was closer than the scoreline suggested, but against 35 errors from Norrie, Rublev fired 30 winners and made just 17 errors. It had been a commendable, bold performance after such rigorous previous tests.
Next, though, he will attempt and to reach his first Major semi-final, but will have to beat either Nadal or Tiafoe to do so. But then, as he said after his Norrie victory:
“This is the US Open, this is a Grand Slam, and everyone is nervous, everyone is tight, everyone wants to win.”
Tiafoe upset Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in three hours 33 minutes, in front of an packed Arthur Ashe arena to set a quarter-final against Rublev. It was Nadal’s first Major loss in 2022, to go 22-1, and leaves the door ajar for either Alcaraz or Ruud to play for No1 come the closing weekend.