Pablo Carreño Busta fires himself up on the way to a 7-6 (2), 7-6(4), 7-6(3) US Open round 4 victory

The roller coaster ride that was Denis Shapovalov’s US Open ends here- in the fourth round on a gloomy Sunday afternoon- but the wave of euphoria that has carried the Canadian over the past month is still at its peak. Shapovalov lost three tiebreaks today to Pablo Carreño Busta; it matters not, because he won much more than he could have bargained for in the form of affection, recognition and support for his swashbuckling brand of tennis.

With a bit more fine-tuning to his game and clarity of mind in pressure situations, Shapovalov would be able to win sets like the first one of this contest without too much trouble. After holding serve to begin the match, he came out swinging in Carreño Busta’s first service game. He held two break points but couldn’t convert either of them, which allowed his opponent to fight his way to safety.

Carreño Busta has not dropped a set all week, but came perilously close to doing so after losing serve to hand Shapovalov a 4-2 lead in the opener. He fell behind 5-2 and then held to force Shapovalov to win the set on his terms. At this juncture, the tactical indiscipline and foolhardy shot selection that can sometimes creep into Shapovalov’s game cost the 18-year-old dearly. Shapovalov hit 3 loose forehands, gifting the 12th seed a lifeline. Carreño Busta didn’t need any more of Shapovalov’s assistance to get the break back; he did it all himself with a scorching forehand pass that kissed the back edge of the baseline.

A convincing service hold then put the Spaniard back on level terms, before a solid game on serve put Shapovalov back in the lead. Shapvalov almost got another look in when Carreño Busta was serving to stay in the set at 5-6 down, but two set points slipped through his fingers. In the tiebreak, Carreño Busta stamped his authority on the match as the older, more even-keeled competitor. He extracted errors from Shapovalov with deep, heavy cross court drives into the corners. With the 26-year-old 4 points to the good in the tiebreak, the fate of the set was no longer in question. It went Carreño Busta’s way after Shapovalov caught a forehand late at 2-6.

The second set followed the same pattern as the first but in reverse; Carreño Busta broke for a 3-1 lead and had the chance to serve out the set at 5-3. Before the crucial ninth game, Shapovalov had trouble keeping the ball in court, such was the wildness of some of his misses. In the fifth game, Shapovalov earned a break point, which Carreño Busta saved with a deft half-volley that the young Canadian could only scoop into the net. Shapovalov applied pressure aplenty to the Carreño Busta serve again in the seventh game but just couldn’t break through.

That all changed when the Spanish No.3 had to serve for the set, for he quickly fell into a 0-40 hole. Carreño Busta could only inch himself out two thirds of the way as Shapovalov breached his rock-solid defense with a well-placed smash. More momentum swings followed until the score reached 6 games all. From that point, it was a case of different set, same story; Carreño Busta tightened up his game, took the initiative and lured Shapovalov into going for way too much. Carreño Busta won the second set tiebreak 7-4, sealing the set with a searing forehand return off a cagey Shapovalov second serve.

Shapovalov could have crumbled in the third set, especially when Carreño Busta began to punish his second serve at will. It didn’t happen, and that had as much to do with the strength of his character as it did the rousing pro-Shapovalov chants emanating from the crowd. Spurred on by the chorus of noise, Shapovalov managed to hold serve in the opening game with the aid of a couple of nicely executed serve-and-volley plays and broke Carreño Busta to love. He then moved into a 3-0 lead with a love hold.

Just when Carreño Busta looked to be slipping behind in the set, his resistance grew stronger. A hold and a break allowed him to get even with Shapovalov. He threatened to break again at 4-4 when he was up 0-40, though there was little he could do to stop Shapovalov from turning around that mini-battle. Unsurprisingly, a tiebreak was needed to settle the third set. It proved to be the last act of the match. Carreño Busta took it 7-3 and with it, a place in the last eight of the US Open.

It is difficult not to admire Carreño Busta’s workmanlike approach to the game. With results like this, it’s easy to envisage the man from Gijón emerging as one of the leading lights of Spanish tennis. He will square off against the diminutive Argentine Diego Schwartzman in the last eight two days from now. Vamos!

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