Best matches of the 2016 US Open

There are 254 matches played in a Grand Slam tournament, not factoring walkovers, retirements and whatever else might have befallen Novak Djokovic’s opponents during the 2016 US Open, with great tennis spread across the grounds and throughout the fortnight.

Here are the six top tilts from this year’s US Open:

Kerber – Pliskova: Women’s Final

It was an inauspicious start and a thrilling finish, a compelling contest that registers as one of the finest finals of the Open era. When the streamers came down and the trophies were awarded, it was the new No. 1 who was the one woman left standing. Angelique Kerber won the women’s singles title on the tournament’s final Saturday, gutting out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 10 seed Karolina Pliskova. The 6-foot-1 Czech, a power-playing baseliner with one of the best serves in women’s tennis, got off to an awful start, gifting a first-game break behind a double fault and two easy misses. That was all Kerber would need to claim the opening frame, with the German committing just three unforced errors to 17 for Pliskova.

But the 24-year-old steadied herself and turned the tables on Kerber, her power seeming to keep the No. 2 seed off balance, as she charged to the second set and a 3-1 lead in the final stanza. There is no pressure like trying to close out a Grand Slam title, however, and the 24-year-old seemed burdened by it down the stretch. Kerber broke to make it 3-3, then threaded a forehand down the line to go up 4-3. A pair of holds would ensue, forcing Pliskova to serve to stay in the match. She could not. In the end, Kerber broke at love, falling to the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium and rising as the 2016 US Open women’s champion.

Murray – Nishikori: Men’s Quarterfinals

For four hours, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori engaged in a five-set ode to grit, guile and ground strokes. When the dust settled, the 5-foot-10 Nishikori stood tall – and Murray was heading home. It was a stunning turn for the No. 2 seed, who had played flawless tennis just the round earlier and was considered, along with Novak Djokovic, the primary contender for the men’s title. But the indefatigable Nishikori, owner of impeccable ground strokes and the fleetest feet in men’s tennis, displayed his very best in this one, rebounding from a slow start to make it a match and taking advantage of a Murray mental walkabout to take home the victory.

Oddly, the most important point in their showdown turned out to be one that didn’t count. Murray held a break opportunity at 1-1, 30-40, in the fourth set, but play during the ensuing point was disrupted by noise, with the chair umpire calling a let and ordering it replayed. The Scot, who had the upper hand in the exchange, was incensed, then distracted. He dropped the next seven games as Nishikori took control. He relented briefly, allowing Murray to get back on serve in the decider, but was the tougher competitor down the stretch. And in a match that featured 17 breaks, the Japanese claimed the clincher, serving it out one game later to post a 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory in one of the tournament’s finest encounters.

Pliskova – V. Williams: Women’s Fourth Round

For three sets and two-and-a-half hours, the two lanky, 6-foot-plus big-hitters cornered flat forehands and penetrating backhands, each trying to master the best possible version of very similar games. When the ball fuzz settled, Karolina Pliskova had ensured there would be no all-Williams semifinal at the 2016 US Open. The No.10 seed, making her first appearance in a Grand Slam round of 16, booked her maiden spot in a major round of 8 by outlasting two-time champion and No. 6 seed Venus Williams in an instant classic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.

The third set seesawed back and forth, with Pliskova racing out to 4-2, only to see Venus rebound to earn a match point at 5-4 on Pliskova’s serve. But the Czech dug out, then broke, then pulled ahead to triple match point, serving up 6-5, 40-0. This time it was Venus who carried the day, following a Pliskova double fault, by cracking four consecutive winners to force the tiebreak. Venus, though, could not summon a second wave. Pliskova may be a novice at this stage of a major, but the 2015 Emirates Airline US Open Series champion is an accomplished performer – and she demonstrated her pedigree in the breaker, finally closing out Venus on her fifth match point, 7-3, the tipping point in her stunning run to the final.

Nadal – Pouille: Men’s Fourth Round

From the jump, Lucas Pouille showed he belonged. Unfazed by the arena – the 24,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium – and the opponent – 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal – the French rising star came out delivering booming shots from every wing and every angle. The first set was over before Nadal could get his teeth into the match, and from there. the slugfest was on. Nadal dominated the second set much the way Pouille did the first, but rather than shrinking in the face of the Spaniard’s surge, the No. 24 seed rose to the occasion. He won the third set and had chances in the fourth, with too many errors creeping in, as Nadal once again righted the ship.

It got only more dramatic from there. Nadal broke to open the fifth set and seemed to have the match in hand until, suddenly, stunningly, he didn’t. Pouille broke back to make it 4-4, and each player stepped up to hold serve and force the fifth-set breaker. Pouille pulled out to a 6-3 lead in the decider, but Nadal fought back even, saving all three match points. At 6-6, Nadal had an easy forehand put-away, the kind of shot he has struck without thought to win matches and tournaments all over the globe. But this one found the net. Pouille had his opening, and he took advantage, closing out the upset one point later with a devastating forehand into Nadal’s backhand corner. And with that, the two-time champion was gone, and the Open had its newest breakout star.

Evans – Wawrinka: Men’s Third Round

In the no-question tilt of the tournament through four sets – and still one of the best in total – upstart Brit Daniel Evans and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka matched pounding ground strokes, clutch shots and inspirational arm tattoos over four hours, highlighted by a high-wire fourth-set tiebreak that featured a match point for Evans, a great escape by Wawrinka and a sigh of relief for Swiss tennis fans. The fifth set didn’t do the match justice, as Evans struggled to maintain his concentration and his incredibly high level of play, but the end result was stunning nonetheless: a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 victory for the eventual champion.

The third and fourth sets, in particular, were riveting tennis, with Evans cutting slices to blunt Wawrinka’s signature one-handed backhand and charging the net with abandon. But in the end, the Swiss persevered, advancing to the fourth round in Flushing Meadows for the fifth consecutive year. And in terms of those tattoos, Wawrinka’s says: “Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail better;” Evans: “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

Mladenovic – Pavlyuchenkova: Women’s Second Round

For two sets, 2015 quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic and No. 17 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battled in a fine match. Their third set, however, took it to another level. The two big-hitting baseliners exchanged blows over an absurd 94-minute final frame, trading games until the Russian finally snuck to a 5-3 lead. It wouldn’t hold. The Frenchwoman broke back and pushed the match to a tiebreak that played out in similarly topsy-turvy fashion.

Pavlyuchenkova sprinted to a 3-0 lead in the breaker, only to see Mladenovic take the next four points. And so it went to 5-5, where Mladenovic finally cracked, offering up back-to-back forehand errors to allow the 2006 US Open girls’ champion to fight through to the third round for the first time since 2013. Final score: 2-6, 6-4, 7-6. The final count stood as testament to this even-handed affair: 125 points, 41 winners and 45 unforced errors for Pavlyuchenkova to 124 points, 43 winners and 41 errors for Mladenovic.

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