Run is done for American Alison Riske
NEW YORK -- When the sky over Arthur Ashe Stadium finally released the torrent that had been threatening all morning, unseeded American Alison Riske had just broken Daniela Hantuchova in the second set. She had opportunity and the crowd -- and the next moment, she had an umbrella.
Inside, though, Riske was secretly relieved.
"I was thanking God that it actually rained because I really needed a break to just kind of regroup," Riske said.
She had 3½ hours to think, but when the 23-year-old Pittsburgh native returned to the court, she could not sustain the momentum for long. Hantuchova won the US Open fourth-round match 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
Riske won the second set, but then let those opening-moment nerves return.
"I think I totally lost all focus and missed plenty of balls I should make with my eyes closed," Riske said. "It was really a mistake on me, mentally-wise, for doing that."
If there were any fourth-round opponent Riske had a fighting chance against, it was the 48th-ranked Hantuchova. The 30-year-old Slovakian was a staple of the 2000's, where she was as well known for her tennis as she was for being overmatched in big moments. Her last US Open quarterfinal was in 2002 -- when she was 19 and full of promise. A lot has happened since then.
"This tournament is only now just starting for me," Hantuchova said. "It just means the world for me to be again in the quarterfinals."
Riske's recent results -- she reached the third round of Wimbledon in addition to the fourth round here -- show she is more than just a grass-courter. She has improved her serve, her tactical understanding and her mental approach.
Riske, ranked 81st coming into the Open, should approach the top 60 from these results, which opens the door to enter several tournaments without having to play qualifiers. It's a breakthrough in a few different ways.
"To follow up Wimbledon with something else big was I think really, really cool," Riske said. "Yeah, I look forward to playing more tournaments, playing against the better players. I think the experience, I think that's what's going to be great for me."
Riske's coach, Yves Boulais, said she was a bit overwhelmed playing on Ashe, with its tricky drafts and dark clouds hanging low at 11:08 a.m., as the match got underway.
She lost the first set but was more aggressive in the second. Hantuchova broke Riske in her first service game of the second set, and threatened to sail to a win before the rain could arrive but, down 4-3, Riske broke back using an aggressiveness at the baseline and long rallies to scratch an error out of Hantuchova.
After Riske won a single point on her next service game, the fat drops came quickly, and within seconds fans were dashing from their seats 1 hour, 10 minutes into the match.
Play resumed at 4:48 p.m., and Riske kept that momentum. She even stood a foot or two in front of the baseline as a challenge to Hantuchova's serve.
"She was more confident coming in for the second part of the match," Boulais said.
Hantuchova was beginning to look again like the perpetual underachiever, until she broke Riske on her second service game of the third set and rolled from there. All told, she had 15 aces to Riske's three, and 46 winners to Riske's 17.
Hantuchova has had moderate success here, but more often has been US Open upset fodder. From 2006 to '08, she went out in the first or second round; far earlier than her top-20 seeding predicted.
Since Birmingham in June, Hantuchova has lost in the first round of four tournaments, including Wimbledon, and the second round of the other two she played. She lost in the first round of the US Open the past two years.
Now she will play against the winner of Tuesday's delayed fourth-round match between No. 13 Ana Ivanovic and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka. Given her struggles and her career, Hantuchova understands just how rare these opportunities are.
"I just appreciate everything a lot more," Hantuchova said. "I appreciate just being able to be a tennis player, be healthy, doing what I'm doing, because it's a big privilege to be in this position, to be so lucky in life."