Don’t tell Dominic Thiem the U.S. Open is diminished in any way just because it’s the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2004 French Open without at least one of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
“It doesn’t matter at all if the Big Three are here or not,” the No. 2-seeded Thiem said Monday after beating No. 15 Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1 in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.
“Everybody wants their hands on the trophy,” said Thiem, who won almost half of Auger-Aliassime’s service points, 46 of 88. “It doesn’t really matter who they’re going to beat.”
Djokovic — seeded No. 1, unbeaten this season and the overwhelming favorite — was disqualified Sunday after unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball after dropping a game in the first set against Pablo Carreño Busta.
Nadal (pandemic concerns) and Federer (two knee operations) did not enter the tournament at all.
This ends a run of 13 consecutive major championships won by a member of the Big Three.
“It’s been getting pretty boring,” said Denis Shapovalov, the first Canadian man to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals, “with these three guys winning every tournament.”
None of the men left has ever earned so much as one Slam trophy yet.
The quarterfinals on the bottom half of the draw will be Thiem against No. 21 Alex de Minaur; and No. 10 Andrey Rublev against No. 3 Daniil Medvedev. On the top half, where Djokovic used to loom: No. 12 Shapovalov vs. No. 20 Carreño Busta; No. 5 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 27 Borna Coric.
Medvedev was runner-up to Nadal last year, losing in five sets. He hasn't dropped a set while advancing to the quarterfinals and he's dropped serve only three times.
“I'm playing better every match,” Medvedev said. “I hope this can continue. I'm pleased, actually, with the fact I've won all the sets.”
Thiem is the only remaining man who has contested multiple major finals. He is 0-3, losing twice to Nadal at the French Open and to Djokovic at the Australian Open this February.
“I am probably one of the oldest players left in the field,” said the 27-year-old Thiem, “which is surreal to me.”
Second oldest, actually: Carreño Busta is 29.
It’s the first U.S. Open since 2010 without at least one male quarterfinalist who is 30 or older.
Next up for Thiem is the 21-year-old de Minaur, who reached his first major quarterfinal by saving four set points in the opening tiebreaker and going on to a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Vasek Pospisil.
Pospisil led 6-2 in the tiebreaker when it all fell apart.
“The momentum definitely changed after that,” de Minaur said.
Pospisil, who is 30, praised his younger opponent’s court coverage, saying he thinks de Minaur might be the second-fastest player on tour.
“What’s most impressive is he never breathes. He runs side to side and he’s never out of breath,” Pospisil said. “He defies the laws of biology, I guess. He’s a freak of nature.”
Here’s the total financial hit Novak Djokovic’s U.S. Open default is costing him: $267,500.
That’s all of his $250,000 prize money for reaching the fourth round, plus $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct and an additional $7,500 for skipping his post-match news conference.
The fines were announced Monday, a day after the Djokovic was disqualified for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball after dropping a game.
Both of those fall below the maximum $20,000 the Grand Slam rule book says he could have been docked for each infraction.
To put the penalties in context: Djokovic has earned more than $140 million in prize money over his career, aside from millions more in endorsement deals.
Serena Williams’ next opponent at the U.S. Open not only never has been to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows before, she hadn’t competed in any tournament, anywhere, since Wimbledon in 2017.
Tsvetana Pironkova is a 32-year-old from Bulgaria who doesn’t even have a WTA ranking currently because she hasn’t played in so long. She took that time away to become a mother; her son, Alexander, is 3.
On Monday, she extended her stay in her comeback event, beating Alize Cornet 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in the fourth round.
“There was a time, maybe for 1½-2 years after I became a mom, where I didn’t really picture coming back to the tour at all. I was, you know, happy with the moment, just wanted to live through everything, through this new exciting time in my life,” said Pironkova, who was a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2010. “But then I started thinking about tennis more and more.”
Now she needs to think about facing Williams.
“Playing such a champion, such a legend of the game, it’s a tremendous honor, obviously,” Pironkova said. “I’m really looking forward to that match, because I know the feeling is going to be very special.”