No. 1 Swiatek comes back at U.S. Open, faces No. 8 Pegula next

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NEW YORK — Iga Swiatek covered her head with a white towel during one changeover after falling behind by a set and a break in the U.S. Open’s fourth round. She kept making mistakes, then rolling her eyes or glaring in the direction of her guest box.

Eventually, Swiatek got her strokes straightened out and began playing more like someone who is ranked No. 1, moving into her first quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows by coming back to beat Jule Neiemeier 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I’m just proud,” Swiatek said, “that I didn’t lose hope.”

The 21-year-old from Poland will face another first-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist next. That’s No. 8 seed Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American woman, who advanced earlier Monday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova in a match interrupted by rain for 45 minutes during the third game because the retractable roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium was not closed when a drizzle became a downpour.

Pegula called it “a little frustrating,” saying it was particularly tough “at the start of the match, when there’s no feeling of what’s going on. You’re just sitting there in limbo, not sure what to do.”

The U.S. Tennis Association said in a statement that its “weather team” told U.S. Open organizers there was no rain expected. The statement added: “Unfortunately, a pop-up sunshower occurred.”

The other women’s fourth-round matches Monday were two-time Australian Open champion Viktoria Azarenka against two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova, and No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka against No. 19 Danielle Collins.

In men’s action, No. 9 Andrey Rublev reached his sixth Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating No. 7 Cam Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Rublev is into his third quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows; he is 0-2 at that stage in New York – and 0-5 at all majors.

Rublev next faces 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal or 24-year-old American Frances Tiafoe. Other men’s matches on Monday’s schedule: 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic vs. No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, and No. 11 Jannik Sinner vs. Ilya Ivashka.

Pegula, a 28-year-old who was born in New York and whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, reeled off the last three games of Monday’s opening set, which ended with a double-fault by No. 21 Kvitova, and then the last six games after trailing 2-0 in the second.

This will be Pegula’s third appearance in a major quarterfinal this season – and third against the woman who led the rankings at the time. She lost to the since-retired Ash Barty at the Australian Open, which Barty ended up winning, then to Swiatek at the French Open, which Swiatek wound up winning for her second championship there.

“I just have to play within myself,” Pegula said, “and play smart and be present.”

Swiatek arrived in New York having gone just 4-4 since the end of a 37-match winning streak that carried her to six consecutive tournament titles. On Monday, she listened to her usual pre-match playlist – a mix of Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Gorillaz – then came out flat as can be against Neiemer, who is ranked 108th but reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in July in just her second major tournament.

Niemeier was better in the first set. Far better. Swiatek produced only four winners and 13 unforced errors, got broken twice and never earned a single break point.

Then, just winning the second set to pull even was quite the struggle for Swiatek.

She got broken early and fell behind 2-1, which is when she draped herself with a towel. She seemed to be talking to herself under there.

Whatever went on, Swiatek immediately flipped things around with a three-game run to lead 4-2. Even after getting a chance to serve for that set at 5-3, she double-faulted to close that game.

Nothing, it seemed, would come easily on this muggy afternoon, with the temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 Celsius) and the humidity above 50%.

But Swiatek did break right back, helped by a wild forehand from Niemeier, and let out a shout.

To a third set they went, and Swiatek completely cleaned up her act: The unforced error count was one for her and 14 for Neiemer. When it ended, Swiatek jumped and threw an uppercut and shook her right fist.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”