Bencic beats Vekic to move into U.S. Open semifinals

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NEW YORK — Belinda Bencic wore down Donna Vekic and advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory Wednesday at the U.S. Open.

Coming off her upset of top-ranked Naomi Osaka in the fourth round, the 12th-seeded Bencic kept up her big hitting and broke open a close match midway through the second set by winning eight straight points.

Trailing 3-2 in the set, that sent her into the lead and Vekic never recovered, with Bencic winning the final four games to surpass her 2014 run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for her best performance in a major tournament.

“I just really like the challenge,” she said of playing in big matches. “I think some players are a little bit afraid of the big courts, but for me it’s more motivation.”

Bencic advanced to play either No. 15 Bianca Andreescu or No. 25 Elise Mertens on Thursday night. Six-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams faces fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the other semifinal.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal tried to make sure the U.S. Open had one member of the Big Three in the semifinals when he faced No. 20 Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday night. No. 13 Gael Monfils of France and No. 24 Matteo Berrettini were playing in the other quarterfinal.

Vekic, seeded 23rd, was also seeking her first semifinal in a major tournament. But with her face bright red as the sun beat down on Arthur Ashe Stadium, she couldn’t keep up with her friend’s power during the biggest moments of the match.

“I think she was just playing better tennis overall today,” Vekic said. “I felt like I couldn’t get three good points together. I was, like, playing one point good, then bad.”

It was Bencic who cracked first, missing an easy putaway on game point while serving at 4-all in the first set. She momentarily seemed to lose focus, as Vekic then won the next three points to break for a 5-4 lead.

But Bencic broke right back to even it again and eventually they headed to a tiebreaker, where the 22-year-old Bencic has thrived this season. Trailing 2-1, she ran off five of the next six points before eventually wrapping it up to improve to 10-2 in tiebreakers this season.

Vekic recovered to take a 3-2 lead in the second set, but that 10-point fifth game seemed to take a little out of her, with Bencic running off the next eight points to seize the lead.

Bencic, who has dealt with injuries since her lone quarterfinal here five years ago, has worked in the past with fellow Switzerland native Martina Hingis. She is coached by her father, Ivan, whom she acknowledged during her postmatch interview.

“I think he almost died today as well by heart attack,” she said.

Nadal, who has won three of his 18 major titles at Flushing Meadows, will be playing in his 40th career Grand Slam quarterfinal. He is 7-0 against Schwartzman.

One men’s semifinal is already set, with No. 5 Daniil Medvedev facing Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer on Tuesday. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, fell in the fourth round.