Lucas Pouille is 22 years old and just reached his second Grand Slam quarterfinal. His countryman, Gael Monfils, recently turned 30 and is in his eighth.
This season has been a breakthrough of sorts for both the youngster and the veteran, who meet Tuesday at the U.S. Open with at least one Frenchman guaranteed a spot in the semifinals.
Pouille’s ascension has been of the conventional up-and-coming variety. He reached a career-best ranking of No. 21 this summer after he made his first major quarterfinal at Wimbledon.
Monfils has been advancing this far at the Grand Slams for more than eight years, though he’s still better known for his flair for creative shot-making than his results. That seems to be shifting in 2016, and a sharply focused Monfils is 18-2 in matches he’s played since a first-round loss at Wimbledon including the highest-level tournament title of his career at Washington.
Of the eight men’s quarterfinalists at Flushing Meadows, only Monfils and Juan Martin del Potro have yet to drop a set.
The 24th-seeded Pouille, in stark contrast, has played three straight five-set matches _ none more draining than his upset of Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
“Mentally I’m stronger, physically I’m stronger,” Pouille said of how his training has changed this season.
He’ll need all of that in his matchup with the 10th-seeded Monfils, against whom he blew a two-set lead at last year’s Australian Open in their only previous meeting.
“I think it’s going to be a tough match for me, but for him as well,” Pouille said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Also of interest to them will be Tuesday’s other men’s quarterfinal, when a third Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, takes on No. 1 Novak Djokovic. This is the first time since 1927 that three Frenchmen have reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open or its predecessor, the U.S. Championships.
Djokovic has contested just two full matches in four rounds because of opponents’ injuries, and the men he defeated in the completed matches were both ranked outside the top 80.
He played crisply in his win Sunday over 21-year-old Kyle Edmund, who was in his first Grand Slam round of 16, but it’s still unclear just how healthy or sharp Djokovic is. The ninth-seeded Tsonga presents a huge step up in competition, though Djokovic owns a 15-6 advantage in the head-to-head series including a victory in the 2008 Australian Open final for the Serb’s first major title.
Caroline Wozniacki has an apartment in Manhattan, so the U.S. Open offers all the benefits of a home tournament for her sleeping in her own bed, lunch or dinner out with friends every day.
“I just can cook,” she started to say, then corrected herself: “Or I don’t cook, actually. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. My mom has cooked. She’s staying with me this week, which is nice. She’s cooked a couple of meals. She does my laundry, as well. It’s nice to have Mom around. Usually I have to do all that myself.”
So perhaps that’s the secret to Wozniacki’s run to the quarterfinals when she hadn’t won four matches in a row since March 2015.
Wozniacki is a two-time U.S. Open runner-up, at least. Her opponent Tuesday, Anastasija Sevastova, had never won four straight matches at any major until now and was retired for nearly two years before returning at the start of last season.
Neither player is currently ranked in the top 45, but considering their popularity with the fans, they’re facing off in a night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The other women’s quarterfinal features two top-10 players: second-seeded Angelique Kerber, this year’s Australian Open champ, and No. 7 Roberta Vinci, last year’s U.S. Open runner-up.
Vinci has been bothered by a sore left Achilles tendon, not the sort of impediment that’s ideal against an opponent the caliber of Kerber. Vinci planned to stay off her feet as much as possible Monday.
“Sure, I would like to wake up and not feel any pain,” she said. “I can’t count on a miracle, though.”