Defending champion Sloane Stephens is the sole remaining top-six seed left in the women’s singles at the US Open after a day of upsets at Flushing Meadows.
Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and fifth seed Petra Kvitova both fell on Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is rapidly establishing itself as a graveyard of champions, while sixth seed Caroline Garcia also lost.
Kvitova was the last victim of the day, the two-time Wimbledon champion overpowered by the hottest player of the moment: 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka.
The Belarusian was not ranked highly enough to get into the tournament 12 months ago but has soared into the top 20 and won her first WTA Tour title in New Haven on the eve of the tournament.
She has now won 12 of her last 13 matches, and Sabalenka said: “I am so happy with that. I didn’t say to myself, ‘I have to win this 6-1′. I was like,’Keep fighting, keep going’. Everything was going in.”
Kvitova struggled on serve, hitting 10 double faults, but praised Sabalenka, saying: “I had my chances in the first set. I took it then I lost it again then she took it all the way. After that she just played really fearless and really aggressive, which I didn’t have the answer for.”
The Czech has won five WTA titles this season but only four matches across the four grand slams.
She said: “The French Open I was a bit tired. The Australian Open and Wimbledon were similar, I didn’t really play fearless, I was a bit passive and I didn’t have the confidence that I needed and I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“I really tried to change it for this grand slam, which I think I did quite well. Hopefully I find a way. I just need to work on it.”
Kerber’s exit, joining Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, means there will be four different grand slam champions for the second year in a row.
Kerber was the last woman to collect two slam titles in a season, winning the Australian and US Opens in 2016 before a dramatic slump last year.
She has been resurgent under the guidance of Wim Fissette, capped by her brilliant victory over Serena Williams at Wimbledon, and had reached at least the quarter-finals at the previous three slams.
But here she found Dominika Cibulkova a step too far, the Slovakian winning 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Kerber said: “I had my chances, but I couldn’t take them, especially in the third set. I was not able to play my best tennis in the important moments. She was going for it, and she hit the balls really good and played the winners when she has to.”
While the other big names fell around her, Maria Sharapova remained the queen of the night session, extending her perfect record with victory over Jelena Ostapenko.
The 2006 champion has played 23 times under the lights at Flushing Meadows and won on each occasion.
She got a helping hand this time from 10th seed Ostapenko, last year’s French Open champion, who hit 40 unforced errors in just 17 games to go down 6-3 6-2.
Sharapova said: “I don’t remember how old I was when I played my first night match, but I’m sure I was young enough to still be intimidated by the city and the lights and the atmosphere, the noise, as anyone that’s quite young would be.
“But I really turned that around. I think I thrive on that. I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard.”
Cibulkova next plays last year’s runner-up, Madison Keys, who avoided an upset by fighting from a set down to defeat Aleksandra Krunic 4-6 6-1 6-2.
Another upset saw Cincinnati champion Kiki Bertens beaten 7-6 (7/4) 2-6 7-6 (7/1) by Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova.
Vondrousova next faces Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, who followed up her victory over Wozniacki by beating Katerina Siniakova 6-4 6-0.
Naomi Osaka has been the most efficient player over the first three rounds and the 20-year-old Japanese-American, who next meets Sabalenka, blasted her way into the last 16 of grand slam for only the second time with a 6-0 6-0 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Novak Djokovic has advanced to his sixth Western & Southern Open final to keep alive his hopes of completing the Golden Masters.
The five-time Cincinnati runner-up ousted Croatian Marin Cilic 6-4 3-6 6-3 in two-and-a-half hours in his bid to claim the only ATP Masters tournament he is yet to win.
The Serbian quickly jumped to a 2-1 lead in the first set and he never dropped his serve as the took the opener.
Cilic charged into a more competitive second set, breaking the number 10 seed on his first serve and then again to run to a 5-1 lead, serving out to love to level the match.
Djokovic soon returned to form in the decider, winning 90% of his first serve points, and clinching the victory on his second match point.
He goes on to face second seed Roger Federer, who booked his place in the final after his opponent David Goffin retired injured at 7-6 (7/3) 1-1.
It will be the 46th time the former world number ones have met, Djokovic leading 23-22.
Quoted on the ATP website, the Wimbledon champion said: “I mean, it’s a final for me and the sixth time that I’ll try to win the title.
“Obviously this time I’m hoping that I can get my hands on the trophy. I will give my best. History is also on the line and I’m aware of that and that motivates me even more.”
In November next year the competition will see 18 nations compete in a week-long, round-robin tournament, with the inaugural edition taking place either in Madrid or Lille.
The overhaul of the 118-year-old competition was rubber-stamped despite the Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body of British tennis, announcing on Wednesday that it opposed the changes.
ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement: “I am delighted that the nations have voted to secure the long-term status of Davis Cup.
“Our mission is to ensure that this historic decision will benefit the next generation of players for decades to come.”
The ITF outlined the changes in conjunction with Kosmos, a company founded and chaired by Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique.
“Today is a historic day and we are convinced that the agreement ratified by the nations certainly guarantees the future of the Davis Cup and the development of tennis at all levels. I would like to thank ITF President David Haggerty, the ITF Board of Directors and the entire team of ITF professionals for their work with Kosmos over the past few months and welcome a new stage in which we will continue to evolve together. I would also like to congratulate all those who, with their votes, have embraced this change and have seen the momentous decision that was in their hands,” said Pique.
“This is the beginning of a new stage that guarantees the pre-eminent and legitimate place that the Davis Cup should have as a competition for national teams while adapting to the demands of this professional sport at the highest level. It is a great honour for me to be part of this historic process of a sport that I am passionate about and, without a doubt, in both personal and professional terms this is one of the happiest days of my life.”
The new #DavisCup format will involve a qualifying round in February, in which 24 teams will take part in home and away matches – a key element of the Davis Cup’s heritage— ITF (@ITF_Tennis) August 16, 2018
Find out more: https://t.co/AD6AMi8R4e pic.twitter.com/O5KspIpDXr
The Davis Cup is currently played in February, April, September and November at home and away venues.
However, an increasing number of top players have opted not to play in recent years due to the hectic schedule.
From next year the 18 countries will be divided into six groups with each qualifying round consisting of three matches – two singles and one doubles – of best-of-three sets.
The top teams from each group and the two highest-scoring runners-up will play the quarter-finals on the Friday, with the semi-finals on Saturday and the final held on Sunday.
In explaining its decision to vote against the changes, the LTA said in a statement: “Concerns remain that the proposed format and its impact on the tennis calendar, extending the season for players, risks player participation and therefore fan appeal.”
Great Britain, who won the Davis Cup in 2015, face Uzbekistan in a world group play-off in Glasgow next month.
Strong opponents to the reform proposal, Tennis Australia released a statement on Thursday urging the ITF to preserve the legacy of the Davis Cup. It’s worth noting that the Australia governing body have invested in two rivaling team events – the Laver Cup as well as the new ATP World Team Cup set to debut in 2020.
“Tennis Australia is extremely disappointed with the radical changes proposed for the Davis Cup. Reform is vital for the competition but this proposal takes away too much of what makes the Davis Cup unique and special, especially the home and away aspect which has brought elite tennis to so many fans around the world,” read the statement.
“The ITF now has a major responsibility to ensure the great heritage and prestige of the competition is somehow retained in this new version of Davis Cup.”