With Cilic gone, teen Shapovalov has an opening at US Open
NEW YORK — Thanks to 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic’s early exit, there will be a first-time Grand Slam finalist at Flushing Meadows — and one of the men still with a chance to get that far is 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
Just 2½ months after his runner-up finish at Wimbledon, the No. 5-seeded Cilic bowed out in the third round of the U.S. Open on Friday with 80 unforced errors in a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 loss to No. 29 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.
Not much later, Shapovalov became the youngest man to reach the round of 16 in New York since Michael Chang was 17 in 1989, getting that far when Kyle Edmund of Britain stopped playing because of an injured neck. Edmund had won the first set, but Shapovalov took the next two and was up 1-0 in the fourth when Edmund retired from the match.
“It’s never great to win this way,” Shapovalov said. “Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.”
Neither he nor Schwartzman had ever been to a major’s fourth round before, nor had another of the afternoon’s winners, 35-year-old Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, who actually began his Grand Slam career with an 0-13 record.
As it is, Cilic was the only owner of a major title on the entire bottom half of the draw when the tournament began.
“That’s right: A few surprises and lots of withdrawals,” Schwartzman noted. “This is the moment to take advantage.”
That part of the bracket originally included three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, but he withdrew because of a hip injury, part of a depleted-at-the-outset field also missing Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
“For me, it was not, ‘The draw is opening up,’” Cilic said of his thinking as the event began. “It’s more: ‘I have to play my way into it and obviously earn my chance.’”
At the time of his departure, the highest-seeded man remaining in that half was No. 10 John Isner, the top-ranked American man, who was scheduled to face No. 23 Mischa Zverev on Friday night. That was to be followed in Arthur Ashe Stadium by five-time major champion Maria Sharapova against 139th-ranked U.S. wild-card entry Sofia Kenin.
Women’s winners earlier in the day included reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Sloane Stephens, who is coming back from left foot surgery in January and is back in the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the first time since 2013.
Cilic was hobbled by a foot blister while losing to Roger Federer at the All England Club, but the bigger obstacle to proper preparation for the U.S. Open was a left leg problem that kept him off the practice courts for about two weeks. Cilic was trying to become the first man to win the trophy at Flushing Meadows without having competed at all after Wimbledon.
“Without playing that time, I lost maybe a little bit (of) rhythm,” Cilic said. “Today, when I was in some trouble, I was not coming up with the great shots, not coming up with some good serves, so I had to rely a lot on playing from the back, where Diego is very solid, moves really great and doesn’t give much.”
Cilic normally can rely on his big serve, but he was broken nine times by Schwartzman.
Shapovalov is an up-and-coming player who won the Wimbledon junior title just last year. He made his Grand Slam main-draw debut there this July, losing in the first round, but has taken significant strides since.
At Montreal last month, he became the youngest man ever to reach the semifinals at a Masters event, and he grabbed attention this week by knocking off No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a finalist at the 2008 Australian Open.
Shapovalov is a crowd-pleaser, someone who plays a fluid, aggressive game — and shows plenty of emotion while he’s at it. He also came through qualifying, so Friday’s match was his sixth in a little more than a week.
His next opponent is No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta, a Spaniard who earned a spot in the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the first time by easily eliminating Nicolas Mahut 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Carreno Busta will be the first man at any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968, to face four qualifiers.