Defending champion, No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka ousted before quarters at U.S. Open

Naomi Osaka’s 10-match U.S. Open winning streak and title defence are done after she was outplayed in the fourth round by Belinda Bencic and lost 7-5, 6-4 Monday.

Osaka has been wearing a black sleeve on her bothersome left knee and was visited by a trainer after getting broken to trail 3-2 in the second set.

“I was so excited to come on the court. The challenge cannot be bigger [than] against Naomi,” said the 13th-seeded Bencic, who will face No. 23 Donna Vekic in the quarter-finals. “I’m really pleased with how I played and how I managed my nerves in the end.”

The result under the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a rainy afternoon means both defending champions and No. 1 seeds are gone before the quarterfinals at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

WATCH | Bencic stuns Osaka in 4th round at Flushing Meadows:

Belinda Bencic defeats defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka 7-5, 6-4 in their round of 16 match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. 1:45

Last year’s men’s champ, Novak Djokovic, stopped playing in his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka on Sunday night because of a painful left shoulder.

Osaka made her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows in 2018, winning her first major championship by beating Serena Williams in a chaotic final that devolved after Williams got into an extended argument with the chair umpire.

Osaka followed that up with a second consecutive Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open in January. That allowed her to become the first tennis player representing Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.

Big-match player

Bencic, who is from Switzerland, showed again that she is a big-match player. She improved to 3-0 against Osaka this season and now has a tour-leading nine victories over top-10 opponents in 2019. Bencic also is 4-1 over her career against top-ranked players.

Bencic is 22, just a year older than Osaka, but her progress was slowed in recent years by injuries, including wrist surgery.

Back in 2014, when she was 17, Bencic became the youngest woman into the U.S. Open quarterfifnals since 1997, when Martina Hingis took the title.

It was Hingis’ mother, and then Hingis herself, who coached and mentored Bencic along the way, and she credited them after getting past Osaka.

“I know so much from them, what they’ve taught me,” Bencic said.

Nadal dispatches Cilic

Rafael Nadal easily passed his first test of this year’s U.S. Open and reached the quarter-finals at a ninth consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

With Tiger Woods throwing uppercuts in the stands, Nadal shook off dropping a set and powered past 2014 champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round.

Nadal dropped a set for the first time in this year’s tournament but quickly responded by breaking to lead 3-1 in the third set and was on his way.

Nadal is seeking his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and his 19th Grand Slam trophy overall. Roger Federer holds the men’s record of 20; they only could meet in the final this year. The rivals never have played each other in New York.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal, who retired from his 2018 semifinal at the U.S. Open with a knee injury, will try to get back to the final four by beating No. 20 Diego Schwartzman.

Vekic achieves career best

Vekic, a 23-year-old from Croatia, reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by saving a match point and edging No. 26 Julia Goerges of Germany 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3.

“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said.

Well, here’s how: Goerges served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set, coming within one point of ending things right there. Not only couldn’t Goerges convert, but she also double-faulted three times in that game and unraveled from there, wasting a 21-ace effort.

Osaka is more powerful than Bencic and repeatedly used her serve to keep things close, finishing with nine aces.

But it was Bencic’s precision that won the day. She made only 12 unforced errors in the entire match, while producing 29 winners.

Her style is similar to the younger Hingis, who won five Grand Slam singles titles.

“I’m just trying to play it a little bit like chess and anticipate,” Bencic said.

Playing so crisply, so cleanly, she took balls on the rise and snapped them back, rushing Osaka and not giving her time to respond in kind.

Bencic broke for a 6-5 lead with a forehand volley winner followed by a backhand passing winner, then served out that set. In the second, Bencic conjured up another terrific backhand passing shot off a sharp volley by Osaka to set up love-40, and a double-fault then made it 3-2.

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