September 3, 2014
If at first you don’t succeed…try, try, try again. Just ask China’s Peng Shuai and Croatia’s Marin Cilic, neither of whom are quite used to the type of winning feeling the US Open has just given them.
Cilic beat Gilles Simon for the first time, edging a five-set thriller 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. He earned match points with his 23rd ace and sealed the deal with a rock-solid volley. No one was more pleased than former Wimbledon favourite Goran Ivanisevic, who coaches and inspires his fellow countryman. For Cilic, the victory helped put behind him the frustration of leading by two sets to one against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon before losing in five to the eventual champion.
A relieved Cilic said later: ‘It’s amazing. I knew he wasn’t going to go down easy, he always beat me in the final set before. But this time it was my turn, even though we both played our best tennis in the fifth set, after more than four hours.’ He will now face in-form Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarters, after the sixth seed saw off Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Meanwhile the flamboyant Gael Monfils stunned Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 to set up a quarter-final against Roger Federer.
Monfils did it all without a coach at one of his favourite Slams. Later he explained: ‘I love to play here. I’m just happy, working hard. I guess I should stay like this (without a coach).’ Why not? He hasn’t dropped a set yet in New York this year and and he will be sure to test Federer, who also looked super-sharp in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut.
Yet no one was more emotional than Peng Shuai, the 28-year-old Chinese star, who beat Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-1 before revealing that she nearly quit tennis due to indifferent results. Peng has reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the 37th time of asking, a breakthrough that was almost too much for her to absorb. Peng had New York and very probably all of China mesmerised when she tried to speak after her victory. ‘Thirty-seven Slams and now this. Sorry, it is too exciting.’
The Flushing Meadows crowd cheered her before she explained her dramatic back-story. ‘Sometimes I’m thinking to give up because it’s so hard but my parents and friends and coach told me never to give up…and now this. I also told myself “never ever give up” because I love tennis, I love playing.’ Then she almost burst into tears, as if the sheer magnitude of her achievement was just dawning on her.
Now China’s growing millions of tennis fans will watch Peng play Caroline Wozniacki, the charismatic Dane who destroyed Italy’s Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in a night match lasting just 65 minutes. ‘It’s been a pretty up and down year for me,’ said Wozniacki, whose engagement to golfer Rory McIlroy ended in May. ‘This is an incredible feeling.’
For the winner of what is certain to prove an emotionally-charged semi-final, a first Grand Slam title will be just a step away at long last. Seems like there really are fantastic rewards in life for sheer determination, when logic might tell you to give up…but something inside tells you to give it another go.
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