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US OPEN BLOG: Thiem vs. Zverev Will Produce First-Time Slam Champion

Darryl Nash / USTASoCal

Fri 4th, Sep, 2020

Sunday, September 13

It's been one heck of a wild ride at the US Open this year. Instead of culminating the Grand Slam schedule as usual, the Open will be the second major to finish in 2020, with one still to come. On Sunday, with a mountain of high drama come and gone, there's only one trophy left to hoist.

The Men's final features a pair of players who've never won a Grand Slam - ATP #3 Dominic Thiem and #7 Alexander Zverev. In nine career meetings, Thiem has pocketed seven wins. The last meeting, at the Australian Open in  January, was a see saw battle won by Thiem in four sets, the final two in tiebreak fashion. The men's champion may well be decided by who wins the mental game, and after Thiem's gutsy semifinal win, he may have a slight cerebral edge.

This also concludes our US Open Blog for 2020. A hearty tap of the racquet to #TeamSoCal and our great roster of players and favorites, including the superb run of UCLA's Jennifer Brady, the premiere of Katrina Scott and Brandon Nakashima in the main draws, and an impressive finish for Asia Muhammad with Taylor Townsend.

We'll be back next summer with roaring New York crowds (right?) and more exciting tennis from the best players in the world. Enjoy the men's final, and be sure to catch USTAsocal's visual tournament wrap-up on our social channels!

 

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Saturday, September 12

Down to the wire in New York as we get set to crown the 2020 champions of the US Open. The women's final today between Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka could easily have been a SoCal showdown between Serena and Jennifer Brady, but alas we will instead see two hard-hitting former Slam champions vie for another crown.

On the men's side, Dominic Thiem has a shot at his first major after waiting so long in the shadow of the Big Three. He meets Alexander Zverev in a Sunday match to determine a first-time Grand Slam champion on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

David Wagner is the lone remaining #TeamSoCal competitor and he's got his hands full in the final of three round-robin matches today against #1 Dylan Alcott. Wagner will also team with Sam Schroder to seek his 19th Slam doubles title.

 

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Friday, September 11

On this day in New York, as we pause to honor those affected by the events of 9/11, we next turn to tennis as the US Open reaches its epic conclusion. There's still three days remaining, each promising its own level of drama and excitement.

Last night set the stage for the women's final, which will feature Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka. Both played spoiler for #TeamSoCal yesterday as UCLA alum Jennifer Brady and perennial favorite Serena Williams were eliminated. The men's final will be determined today.

Look for #TeamSoCal in Wheelchair competition as David Wagner meets Sam Schroder in the second match of round-robin play. It's more or less a must-win for Wagner, who dropped his first match on Thursday and meets the favored top seed in the third RR match. Dana Mathewson, who was eliminated in singles, returns in the opening match of women's doubles later today.

 

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Thursday, September 10

Even without her best stuff, Serena Williams found the path to another US Open semifinal. Playing with nothing near her A-game against unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, Serena escaped from another three-setter, advancing to face a resurgent Victoria Azarenka. They’ll both have a quick turnaround when semifinals begin on Thursday.

With an extra day of rest, Jennifer Brady will be at full strength when she meets Naomi Osaka in the other semifinal. Tennis fans are likely to hope for a Williams/Osaka final, but Brady’s streaky season will bring a challenge to Osaka, the 2018 champion.

The women’s final is scheduled for Saturday.

On the men’s side, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem moved into the semifinals yesterday, joining Juan Carreno Busta and Alexander Zverev in the semifinal round slated for Friday in New York.

A reminder to check our US Open Wheelchair Preview as David Wagner and Dana Mathewson begin their quest for US Open Wheelchair titles on Thursday.

WHAT YOU MISSED: Asia Muhammad & Taylor Townsend had match point on their racquets in a third set tiebreak, but Nicole Melichar & Yifan Xu were able to hang on and advance to the women’s doubles final. The finish is a career best in Slam competition for both Muhammad and Townsend, who had upset the #5 seeds in the first round to pave their road to Wednesday’s semifinal.

 

Wednesday, September 9

Serena Williams faces unseeded Tsvitana Pironkova, which may seem like a cake walk. But these things have a way of becoming headline grabbers, and tour veteran Pironkova has plenty of experience on her side. This is her best finish in a Slam since the French quarters in 2016. They've played four times in the past, with Williams dominating the results (4-0) but not always the match. Look for Pironkova to play for a huge win, and Serena to reach back once again and face the challenge.

In the women's doubles semis, Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend face a daunting challenge in #3 seeded Melichar/Xu for a spot in the championship final. Muhammad last extended her stay this long in a major in 2016, to the quarters in New York. She's exceeded that accomplishment this year, but nobody enters the tournament with dreams of being a semifinalist. Muhammad & Townsend will have one thing on their minds on Wednesday - win like you've never won before, and make the dream a reality.

Don't forget our US Open Wheelchair Preview today, as David Wagner and Dana Mathewson compete to become Grand Slam champions. Wheelchair competition begins Thursday in New York.

WEDNESDAY BEST BET: We highlighted Alex de Minaur earlier in the tournament, and he's still alive in men's quarterfinals. On Wednesday, he meets #2 Dominic Thiem, who's had a few chances to secure a Slam title, only to fall short. With Djokovic out of the race, Thiem becomes the default favorite. How that plays with his mental game against the free swinging Aussie will decide if he stays at the head of the pack heading into the semifinals.

 

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Tuesday, September 8

On the card today, a tale of two Bruins as Jennifer Brady meets WTA #35 Yulia Putintseva in a women's quarterfinal, and two-time Slam doubles champion Jean-Julien Rojer and teammate Horia Tecau meet Bopanna/Shapovalov in men's doubles.

The draws are shaping up for an exciting climax this weekend, as Serena Williams remains in the hunt for a record-tying Grand Slam. She's also on course for a rematch with Naomi Osaka, which would be a most appealing finale to the US Open. On the men's side, no remaining player in the draw has won a Grand Slam. Somewhere in the mix, there's a first-timer who's only days away from the thrill of a lifetime.

Also of note, wheelchair competition begins Thursday and continues through to the finals on Sunday. Look for our #TeamSoCal Wheelchair Preview on Wednesday!

TUESDAY BEST BET: If Naomi Osaka hopes to meet Serena (or anyone else, for that matter) in the final, she'll need to first dispatch Shelby Rogers on Tuesday. The American is seeking to reach her first career semifinal in a major, and she's got her work cut out for her as Osaka is playing like she's on a mission to gain her second US Open title.

WHAT YOU MISSED: Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend are in the women's double semis, a career first for both women. Melichar/Xu, who eliminated Louisa Stefani & Hayley Carter, stand in their way of playing for the trophy.

 

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Monday, September 7

It's Labor Day in New York, and the start of Week 2 action at the US Open. Is there anyone better to kick it off than Serena Williams? In search of another Grand Slam title, Serena meets #15 Maria Sakkari early this morning on a day that will showcase a new generation of talent in just about every draw on the US Open slate.

After the circumstances surrounding Novak Djokovic's nearly unimaginable departure, and upsets popping up on the women's side, all bets are off on who will emerge as finalists on Sunday. But that's nearly a week away, with plenty of tennis left to come.

Jennifer Brady is in the midst of her second deep tournament run since play resumed in August. After winning her first WTA title, the UCLA alum made a hasty exit at the Western & Southern. But now she's back in form, and playing spirited tennis all the way to the quarterfinals. She will next meet WTA #35 Yulia Putintseva in Brady's first ever QF at a Grand Slam event.

As for the rest of the women's draw, Team USA's Shelby Rogers upset #6 Petra Kvitova on Sunday. Her next match will be her first major quarterfinal since the 2016 French Open, and the first at Flushing Meadows. Sofia Kenin, just five years removed from the Girls 18s National title win in San Diego, remains in the hunt as the #2 seed seeking her second Slam title. She won the Australian Open title in January.

In men's singles, Frances Tiafoe is the lone rep of Team USA in Week 2, compiling one of his better tournament runs in recent memory. Still only 22, Tiafoe has been on the peripheral for a while, but showed signs of life by reaching the 2019 Aussie quarterfinals. He seeks to equal that accomplishment on Monday, but #3 Daniil Medvedev stands in his path.

The men's draw will produce a first time Grand Slam winner this year, with name like Thiem, Shapovalov, de Minaur, and Rublev among those vying for their first major win. It should prove to be an exciting week of young guns on display at the Open.

Keep an eye on women's doubles, where Long Beach's Asia Muhammad continues to roll with Taylor Townsend. Muhammad & Townsend try to keep pace with the pack as doubles quarters conclude Monday, when they oppose Dabrowski/Riske. Pepperdine's Louisa Stefani & Hayley Carter have plans of their own to proceed in the women's draw, looking to topple Melichar/Xu in Monday action.

Another former UCLA Bruin, two-time Slam doubles champion Jean-Julien Rojer and teammate Horia Tecau meet Bopanna/Shapovalov in the quarters.

Also this week, look for our #TeamSoCal US Open Wheelchair Preview!

 

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Sunday, September 6

Temperatures soared in Southern California on Saturday, but didn't help the chill that came across #TeamSoCal as they maneuvered through the US Open schedule in New York. That's a good thing for some - namely Serena Williams - and not a very good thing for those in doubles contention.

Williams needed ice in her veins when 2017 champion Sloane Stephens convincingly dominated the first set against the US Open legend, 6-2. Unphased, Williams responded in kind, twice, and dispatched Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Serena moves on to oppose #15 Maria Sakkari in fourth round play.

Things got chilly for Robert Farah, the former USC Trojan who sought to defend his 2019 title with teammate Juan Sebastian Cabal. The team was stunned by Rojer/Tecau in three sets, an unceremonious departure for the top team on the men's side. In the match prior, women's #6 seeds Ena Shibahara & Shuko Aoyama were also upset by Hayley Carter and Pepperdine's Louisa Stefani. Mountain View's Shibahara & Aoyama dropped the first set and then forced a bagel by dominating the second set. Ultimately, Stefani/Carter emerged in three sets and move on to the quarterfinals.

SUNDAY BEST BET: Look for UCLA Bruins all around the #USOpen! Jennifer Brady is up for a tough fourth round affair against Angelique Kerber, and Mackenzie McDonald and teammate Chris Eubanks will also need an extra push to topple the #3 seed Ram/Salibsury in men's doubles quarterfinals.

 

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Saturday, September 5

Saturday’s chatter will be dominated by the anticipated match-up between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens. Williams continues her quest for Slam #24, while Sloane has played well in the early rounds and hopes to rekindle the fire that took her to the 2017 championship in New York. The pair have faced off six times, with Serena winning five of the six. But Stephens’ one victory was the hardcourt Australian Open in 2013, proving that she can win against the GOAT on the same surface and on a Grand stage.

Another perennial favorite is Robert Farah, the world’s top men’s doubles player and top seed with teammate Juan Sebastian Cabal. They return to action on Saturday to meet unseeded Rojer/Tecau in the second round. They are preceded by former UCLA standout and Mountain View native  Ena Shibahara, who teams with Shuko Aoyama as the #6 seed in the women’s draw. The Japanese tandem will face Carter/Stefani in their Round 2 meeting.

SATURDAY BEST BET: Alex de Minaur had been the young hope of Australia for a few years now, but the 21-year old still has plenty of natural maturation ahead of him. Still, he is regularly seeded in Grand Slam play and comes into the US Open as the #21 seed and ATP #28, giving a little bit of ground to his Saturday opponent, Karen Khachanov of Russia. Khachanov is the ATP #16 seeded ten spots above the young Aussie, a sure fire target for de Minaur to make another jump in the world rankings.

WHAT YOU MISSED: Taylor Fritz served for the match after dominating most of his third round meeting with Denis Shapovalov, but the young Canadian never backed down on Friday and eliminated Fritz in five sets... A hiccup in the second set for UCLA Bruin Jennifer Brady, but the WTA #41 fell back into form and defeated Caroline Garcia to move to the 4th Round, where she will meet #17 Angelique Kerber… Asia Muhammad and teammate Taylor Townsend continued their role through the early rounds of women’s doubles. After upsetting the #5 seeds in the opening round, Muhammad/Townsend rallied to advance over Hradecka/Klepac on Friday morning. The victory sets up another chance to stage a big win – they face the top seeded team of Babos/Mladenovic in the quarterfinals…. Former UCLA champion Mackie McDonald and teammates Chris Eubanks have advanced in men’s doubles with a straight set win, and will meet #3 Ram/Salisbury in the quarterfinals.

 

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Friday, September 4

If your holiday weekend starts early, there’s plenty of tennis on tap at the US Open on Friday, highlighted by a matinee with Rancho Palos Verdes’ Taylor Fritz.

Fritz, the #19 seed, meets Denis Shapovalov this afternoon in a battle of young guns seeking to make a statement in the Grand Slam stage. Shapovalov has been tested in twice in his previous matches, but emerged both times with a four-set win. Fritz dropped his first set of the Open, but has cruised since then. The young Canadian has won both of their previous meetings, the last in 2019 during the Davis Cup, but has strung together early tournament exits since a quarterfinal spot at the ATP Cup in January. Fritz, on the other hand, has played spirited tennis going deeper into tournaments and facing off with names like Isner, Thiem, and Nadal.

Jennifer Brady brings the roar of a UCLA Bruin to the court she meets Caroline Garcia. Remember, Brady could be a dark horse in New York. She preceded the Western & Southern with a WTA title at the Top Seed Open and had played a lot of tennis heading into the Open, and that could help propel her well into the second week.

In doubles play, Asia Muhammad (Long Beach) and Taylor Townsend upset the #5 seeds earlier this week. On Friday, they resume play against Hradecka/Klepac. UCLA alum and former NCAA champion Mackie McDonald also returns with Chris Eubanks for their second round match.

FRIDAY BEST BET: It was back in 2011 when Jessica Pegula last reached the third round of a major. She’s made her return this week at the US Open, and while Pegula has played two long matches plus her opening round doubles match, she’s got to be pumped for Friday’s meeting with WTA #12 Petra Kvitova. It will be Pegula’s first test this week against a seeded player, and the two have never faced off on tour. They get together on Friday night for a slot in Round 4.

WHAT YOU MISSED: Robert Farah continued his quest for a second straight US Open doubles title as he and partner Juan Sebastian Cabal opened their campaign in strong fashion with a straight set win on Thursday morning… Also advancing, former UCLA Bruin Ena Shibahara and teammate Shuko Aoyama… With top seed Karolina Pliskova eliminated, Serena Williams sees an opening in her quest for another major title. She won under the lights against Margarita Gasparyan and will match-up with Stephens/Govortsova next… Woodland Hills’ Katrina Scott impressed against #22 Amanda Anisimova, as did West Covina’s Ernesto Escobedo against Salvatore Caruso, but both faded late in their second round matches.

 

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Thursday, September 3

Day Four at the US Open arrives with some intrigue as the present and future stars of #TeamSoCal headline women’s singles action today in New York. Perennial favorite Serena Williams resumes her hunt for the elusive 24th Grand Slam, while Katrina Scott faces a challenge in her inaugural main draw journey.

Scott is poised to be the talk of the town is she can handle fellow American and WTA #28 Amanda Anisimova. Scott, from Woodland Hills, made her main draw debut on Tuesday with a solid straight set win over Natalia Vikhlyantseva. The #22 seeded Anisimova is more accomplished but sometimes inconsistent, with a 2019 semifinal appearance at the French followed by a second round departure at Wimbledon last summer, then a first round ouster in Melbourne this year. The 16-year old Scott has nothing to lose and everything to gain, including a slot in the Open’s third round.

While Katrina hopes to break through, it’s Serena who will try to reach even further and capture the elusive 24th Grand Slam of her career. Serena Williams needs one major title to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record, but if that happens this year in New York, she’ll first need to dispatch WTA #117 Margarita Gasparyan. The Russian veteran has struggled in limited action this year, a prime target for Williams in Thursday night action.

Also on Thursday, 2017 champion Sloane Stephens and ’17 finalist Madison Keys will both play for a spot in the third round. Doubles action continues as UCLA alums Jennifer Brady and Ena Shibahara kick off their US Open play. Brady teams with Caroline Dolehide, while Shibahara & Shuko Aoyama are the #6 seeds. Former USC Trojan Kaitlyn Christian & Giuliana Olmos will have a tough draw against top seeded Babos/Mladenovic in their first round match.

On the men’s side, Ernesto Escobedo (West Covina) finds himself maintaining a tough schedule Thursday, with matches in both singles and doubles brackets. Escobedo was a late addition to the tournament as an alternate, yet still won convincingly in his opening round match against Kamil Majchrzak. Escobedo meets ATP #100 Salvatore Caruso on Court 6, then returns just a couple hours later to the same court with Noah Rubin to open his doubles campaign.

Robert Farah, the top doubles player on the ATP Tour, returns with teammate Juan Sebastian Cabal as the men’s doubles tournament top seed. The Colombian pair seek to become the first team to repeat as Open champions in consecutive years since Woodbridge/Woodforde in the mid-90s.

THURSDAY’S BEST BET: Andy Murray made a rousing comeback in his opening round match, but next he faces the young Canadian, #15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in Thursday’s nightcap. Murray will look to continue his steady return, while Auger-Aliassime is prime to steal the spotlight for a new generation of exciting young players.

WHAT YOU MISSED: Wednesday’s schedule saw the departure of some of #TeamSoCal’s favorite faces. Max Cressy’s late night exit capped a disappointing day for UCLA alums, as he and Marcos Giron were eliminated in the second round. Mackenzie McDonald, ousted from first round singles, earned a doubles win alongside Christopher Eubanks… After losing the first set, Asia Muhammad and her teammate Taylor Townsend stunned #5 seed Mattek-Sands/Zhang to advance. They are on course to meet the top seeds in the quarterfinals should they advance… Taylor Fritz and Jennifer Brady both advanced in singles, while Steve Johnson was unable to capitalize on his first round win over John Isner, falling in four sets... San Diego's Brandon Nakashima had all he could handle with Alexander Zverev, yet still took the second set against the #5 seed before Zverev secured the match to advance. USC alum Sabrina Santamaria was eliminated from doubles play.

 

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Wednesday, September 2

The #Team SoCal journey at the US Open has been eventful after just one round of the year’s second Grand Slam, with Southern California leading the youth movement into the pro ranks. Rolling into Round Two, some intriguing match-ups and hefty challenges lie ahead.

Katrina Scott, the 16-year old from Woodland Hills, earned her first US Open main draw victory on Tuesday, a straight set win over Natalia Vikhlyantseva. Scott, who just one year ago upset top seed Robin Montgomery in the US Open Junior Championships (Montgomery also reached the main draw this week), will face another young American in the second round, the #22 seed Amanda Anisimova.

Another young face from SoCal, San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima, also premiered in the main draw this week and made quick work of Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi. Nakashima will face an uphill battle when me faces #5 seed Alexander Zverev in the next round, a worthy test for the #TeamSoCal 19-year old.

Also reaching the second round for the first time at the Open are UCLA alums Marcos Giron and Maxime Cressy after both advanced from Monday’s opening round. Giron outlasted Aussie Marc Polmans in five sets to set up a second round meeting with Filip Krajinovic, as Cressy powered through in four over Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik. Cressy next faces off with the #4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Perhaps the biggest upset on the men’s side was Steve Johnson’s thrilling triumph over John Isner on Monday night. Johnson (Redondo Beach) looked as spry as he did when piling up NCAA titles at USC. Again under the watchful eye of his former college coach Peter Smith, Johnson was able to neutralize Isner’s thunderous serve often enough to escape with a five set victory. Johnson advances to meet the 20-year old Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis.

Taylor Fritz (Rancho Palos Verdes) also advanced on Monday and next meets Gilles Simon.

Another former UCLA star Jennifer Brady advanced with a routine win to begin her quest for a US Open crown. Brady next faces CiCi Bellis, the American making her return to Flushing Meadows after a four- year absence.

Serena Williams started slowly in her match against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, but recovered nicely in the second set to post a 7-5, 6-3 victory to open her quest for another Open title. Margarita Gasparyan of Russia will be Serena's next obstacle. Her sister, Venus Williams, entered the tournament unseeded and fell victim to #20 seed Karolina Muchova.

#TEAMSOCAL NOTES

Two #TeamSoCal players were last minute substitutions in the main draw on Tuesday. West Covina’s Ernesto Escobedo and Long Beach’s Asia Muhammad made unexpected appearances on Tuesday to fill vacancies left by withdrawing players. On the men’s side, Benoit Paire was removed after contracting the COVID virus, leaving Escobedo to sweep Kamil Majchrzak in straight sets. He meets ATP #100 Salvatore Caruso in the second round. Muhammad was unable to capitalize on Vitalia Diatchenko's injury withdrawal and fell in their first round match. Both Escobedo and Muhammad will also appear in doubles action this week.