Fittingly, the brightest star of the 2014 US Open’s early going played under the lights and in front of a crowd that nearly spilled onto Court 17. In the end, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis didn’t have enough to rally past fellow up-and-comer Zarina Diyas on Day 4, falling, 6-3, 0-6, 6-2, and bringing an early end to the tournament's most captivating storyline to date.
But fear not, stories abound at the 2014 US Open, and many were on display during Day 4 – with the game’s biggest names doing impressive work in Bellis’ shadow. In fact, it turned out that Thursday was an especially good day to be a seeded player inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Favorites Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic all cruised, dropping a combined 10 games in eight sets during the day session, while Andy Murray kept it going to kick off the evening’s fare, winning a routine encounter against Matthias Bachinger. The nightcap got tricky, with Eugenie Bouchard dropping a second-set breaker to Sorana Cirstea, but she emerged unscathed before the clock struck midnight.
Elsewhere, it was a busy afternoon for the home-country favorites. The day was an unbridled success for the men, with Sam Querrey upsetting No. 28 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets and John Isner cruising past Jan-Lennard Struff in like fashion to set up an improbable third consecutive third-round match at the Open against Philipp Kohlschreiber. And while the U.S. women went 3-6 on the day, winners included Serena, two-time NCAA champ Nicole Gibbs and veteran Varvara Lepchenko.
Sadly for the partisan crowd, Bellis was among the Americans vanquished. But for those already lamenting the absence of the talented youngster, just wait a few days – the world junior No. 2 is scheduled to play in the US Open girls’ singles.
Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 5 of the 2014 US Open:
Match of the Day: Court 5 was redesigned for 2014, making it a TV court and part of a stadium experience that has become a fan favorite at this year’s Open. And on Thursday, the fans filled the new digs to capacity, hanging over every wall and on every point of a riveting three-setter between No. 24 seed Samantha Stosur and the estimable Estonian Kaia Kanepi. With the Aussie fans making their presence felt, Stosur pulled out to two match points in the final-set tiebreak, but Kanepi held firm, painting the lines and pulling past the 2011 champion, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, with a 10-8 victory in the decider.
Player of the Day: When Simone Bolelli went up two sets to none on Tommy Robredo Thursday, the fans flocked to Court 17 hoping to get a prime seat for the match that followed: 15-year-old CiCi Bellis against Zarina Diyas. They should have known better. Robredo, the king of the two-set comeback, delivered another vintage performance, taking advantage of a controversial call deep in the third set to stage a 5-7, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the Italian. It was the seventh time in his career that the 32-year-old Spaniard has pulled off the most difficult of tennis escape acts, and it sent him into the third round, where he will face Australian bomber Nick Kyrgios.
Honorable mention here to Diyas, a talented 20-year-old who fought hard and played well to advance to the third round of her third Grand Slam this year – and who handled the circus-like atmosphere with aplomb.
Upset of the Day: Ana Ivanovic has been enjoying a bounceback year, defeating Serena Williams to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and winning two titles to return to the Top 10. She also had an impressive win in the first round here, easily sweeping past American Alison Riske. Yet it all came apart in two sets Thursday, with the former French Open champion and world No. 1 falling to 22-year-old Karolina Pliskova, 7-5, 6-4. With the victory, Pliskova, who climbed into the Top 50 for the first time earlier this year, advanced to the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Quote of the Day: “This whole experience has been unbelievable, like mind-blowing. It's been crazy. It's been the best couple days of my life.” – CiCi Bellis, describing her US Open experience following her three-set loss to Zarina Diyas
Looking Ahead: Seeds are playing seeds on the women’s side today with the start of the third round. Top matchups include Maria Sharapova taking on former Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki, Venus Williams looking to march on against No. 13 seed Sara Errani and second seed Simona Halep taking on a resurgent Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
The men, meantime, complete their second round with title contenders Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych all in action. Also keep an eye (look up) on the height-enhanced matchup between two of the biggest servers in the game, 6-foot-7 Kevin Anderson versus 6-8 Jerzy Janowicz.