NEW YORK (AP) - The closed roof, a dropped first set, a tight match highlighted by last year’s U.S. Open finalist that had the crowd going wild. Sure, Rafael Nadal had all of those elements in his victory.
But at the stadium a long volley away from Nadal, Kevin Anderson was engaged in his own terrific duel under the same conditions.
Anderson, who lost to Nadal in the 2017 Open final, lost his first set and played under a closed roof for the first time in Louis Armstrong Stadium history. Like Nadal - who won in four sets - Anderson survived a scare, this one against 19-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory on Friday night to reach the fourth round in 3 hours, 43 minutes.
“I thought it was great tennis throughout,” Anderson said.
The fifth-seeded Anderson lost the crowd to the popular Shapovalov - who exhorted the fans to raise the roof under the sealed conditions - but moved on to play Dominic Thiem on Sunday.
His second Grand Slam final of the year is still in sight. The South African has blossomed in his 30s and reached the U.S Open final in 2017 and Wimbledon this year to play for major championships for the first times in his career.
Shapovalov, seeded 28th, showed he has all the potential needed to reach those milestones much earlier.
Shapovalov is 19, making him the youngest player in the ATP top 100. In 2017, Shapovalov qualified at Flushing Meadows and then made a stirring run to the fourth round, making him the youngest man into the round of 16 since Michael Chang in 1989. That helped him crack the top 50 soon after, the youngest player to get that high in the men’s rankings since Rafael Nadal did it in 2004.
Shapovalov wears his hat backward and chokes the adjustment band to the end so that the flap sticks out and - when he wears a white hat as he did Friday - it looks like a unicorn horn. He chewed on his chain, noshed on multiple bananas on nearly every break and tapped his feet against the hard court as he waited for play to resume.
Shapovalov seemed a typical teen, impatiently waiting his turn and keeping an eye on the big screen and the tribute to great moments in U.S. Open history. But his manners - he thanked ball boys and girls for their help - and the way he punctuated winners with punishing backhands showed a maturity beyond his years.
“I just feel like I belong out there this year,” he said. “I’m able to compete with anyone out there, as I showed today. I feel like my game is at a different level.”
He waved his arms and encouraged the crowd to get on their feet, and with the roof closed, Armstrong got loud. The public address announcer chastised the crowd in the fourth set to quiet down as New York instantly became a Shapovalov city.
“Felt like in a coliseum, almost,” Anderson said. “Constant noise going on the whole time, which obviously as tennis players, it’s nice to have quiet. What’s more distracting is when there is quiet and you can identify bits and pieces, pockets of noise. When it’s constant, it’s actually easier to deal with.”
Anderson, though, broke Shapovalov’s serve early in the fifth and took control the rest of the way.
Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe - where Nadal won a thriller over Karen Khachanov - each had to close the roof once light rain hit Flushing Meadows.
Anderson emerged out of nowhere last season to reach the Open final. At No. 32, Anderson was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open men’s finalist since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973. The 6-foot-8 Anderson never had been past the quarterfinals at any major tournament in 33 previous appearances. But Nadal overwhelmed Anderson in three sets to win his third U.S. Open title.
Anderson proved he was no one-slam wonder when reached the Wimbldeon final this season. Again, he was handily defeated by a more experienced champion. Novak Djokovic won in three sets.
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