The final tennis major of the season, the United States Open Tennis Championship is moving along rapidly joined by New York City’s humid heat.
On the woman’s side, there is Serena Williams with growing competition in her way. Sloane Stephens, the defending US Open champion, joined an exclusive list of high seeds that faltered this year in the oppressive heat.
She was beaten Tuesday in the quarterfinals by No. 19 Anastasija Sevastova, a disappointing end to what Stephens hoped would be another title-winning run. The loss derailed a potential dream semifinal against Williams.
As long as Serena remains, the more eyes will stay glued on the US Open. She is seeking her 24th major title to tie Margaret Court for the most all-time. The 36-year-old mother is also trying to win her 7th US Open title and break a tie with Chris Evert.
Williams carries the crown for the entire sport of tennis. However, on the men’s side, this US Open will feature the “fantastic four” for the first time in a while. First Roger Federer entered the tournament chasing his 6th US Open title, that would have been the most of all time. Second, Andy Murray has missed the past four majors due to injury; he is back. Third, defending champion, Rafael Nadal can join Jimmy Connors as the only men in the open era to win multiple US Open titles at age 30 or older. Lastly, the latest major winner, Novak Djokovic entered the tournament winner of 27 of his last 31 matches.
For the first time since 2015 all four entered the US Open, all began with the same goal, all on different paths. The headlines and statistics sold me. However, it has not lived up to the billing so far.
Murray returns to the site of his first major title, that was in 2012. After hip surgery and recovery, in 2018 he began this US Open ranked 382 in the world. Murray played only seven matches this year, none of them in the grand slams until this US Open.
“My goal is to have my tennis and my body in the right place for the beginning of next year,” Murray told ESPN. “I want to win matches, hopefully, play well.”
Murray fell deeper into the unknown after an early US Open exit. The man who stripped Djokovic of his No. 1 ranking in the fall of 2016 is no longer winning tennis matches. His comeback from January hip surgery is more a tale of frustration than resurgence, and it continued with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss against the 34-year-old veteran Fernando Verdasco.
It has been a full decade since Federer last won in New York City.
“Ten years ago, long time ago, it does feel that way,” Federer told ESPN. “The disappointing part about that is that I had opportunities.”
The 37-year-old Swiss was defeated 3-6 7-5 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-3) by world number 55 John Millman. Their match lasted three hours and 34 minutes.
“I felt I couldn’t get air. There was no circulation at all,” Federer said.
Now, two remain along with the heat.
Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 US Open quarterfinal win over John Millman on Wednesday night was halted briefly at 2-all in the second set so that Millman could change out of his sweat-soaked outfit.
Typically, players are allowed to head off the court only between sets to change what they’re wearing.
But Millman asked Djokovic if he’d be OK with a delay after the fourth game.
When Millman apologized for leaving the court at that juncture, Djokovic replied, “I’m fine to have a little rest,” then sat down on his sideline bench without a shirt on and cooled off.
The beat went on.
Djokovic put a two-year slump behind him to win Wimbledon, then defeating Federer in Cincinnati, he looks redeemed and is in vintage form.
“You learn from your mistakes, your learn your biggest lessons in life when thing are not going your way,” Djokovic told ESPN. “Most of all we should believe in ourselves.
Nadal is 40-3, losing only once on each surface. Nadal will try to do what no member of the “fantastic four,” or no man has done in the last decade, that is successfully defended their title in NYC.
“It was not my best US Open last year, but I won the event,” Nadal told ESPN. I am always honest with myself.
World No. 1 beat Dominic Thiem in a grueling five-set quarterfinal, recovering from a disastrous opening set to clinch the match in dramatic style.
Finishing just after 2 a.m local time, the defending champion saw off his younger Austrian opponent 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5) in what was his longest match at the US Open.
Nadal became the first man in the open era to win a major quarterfinal match after losing 6-0 in the first set.
At least one of the four has made the finals 53 of the last 54 majors that is lasting more than 12 years. All four will not last forever, but they are here for now. One will be the last man standing.
ESPN Newswire contributed to this column