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Bencic finished with far more winners, 29, than unforced errors, 12, and showed once again that she is a big-match player.The Associated Press

Naomi Osaka’s achy left knee didn’t let her serve without pain, so she didn’t practice that key part of her game leading into the U.S. Open. The knee also prevented her from covering the court and preparing for shots the way she’d like.

Those weren’t the only reasons that the No. 1-seeded Osaka’s 10-match winning streak at the U.S. Open and title defence ended Monday in the fourth round. Belinda Bencic’s clean, crisp strokes, struck with the ball still on the rise, contributed plenty to the outcome, too.

Osaka joined 2018 men’s champion Novak Djokovic on the sideline before the quarter-finals, exiting with a 7-5, 6-4 loss to the 13th-seeded Bencic under a closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a rainy afternoon. Djokovic stopped playing in his fourth-rounder Sunday night because of a problematic left shoulder.

“I honestly didn’t move well today. You know what I mean? I felt like I was always flat-footed. ... The knee was a little bit annoying in the movement aspect,” Osaka said. “But I think that that’s something I should have overcome.”

As for her powerful serve, Osaka called it “inconsistent,” saying she hadn’t been working on it coming into the year’s past Grand Slam tournament “because I can’t really land on my leg that great.”

Osaka has been wearing a black sleeve on the knee and was given a pain-killing pill by a trainer midway through the second set on Monday.

By then, Bencic was up a set and a break, employing a quick-strike style of taking balls early and snapping them back, rushing Osaka and not leaving her not enough time to respond. It worked before: Bencic is now 3-0 against Osaka in 2019.

“I don’t have the biggest power. Don’t have the most winners or most aces. But I think I can really read the opponent’s game well,” said Bencic, who will face No. 23 Donna Vekic of Croatia in the quarter-finals. “I definitely try to do that against anyone, not only against her.”

Bencic finished with far more winners, 29, than unforced errors, 12, and showed once again that she is a big-match player. She owns a tour-leading nine victories over top-10 opponents in 2019 and is 4-1 for her career against top-ranked players.

Bencic is 22, just a year older than Osaka, but her progress was slowed in recent years by injuries, including wrist surgery.

Back in 2014, when she was 17, Bencic became the youngest woman in the U.S. Open quarter-finals since 1997, when another Swiss woman, Martina Hingis, took the title.

Hingis’s mother, Melanie Molitor, used to coach Bencic and five-time major champion Hingis herself has served as a mentor. Bencic said she likes to emulate the way Hingis used to play, always thinking a move or two — or more — ahead.

“With Melanie, we didn’t try to copy Martina’s game. We tried to make my own game. And obviously, I know there are similarities, because that’s the way Melanie teaches, but it was about making my own strengths and my own game style,” Bencic said. “I play, of course, a little bit different than Martina. I think she was even more skilled and smarter on the court, and playing more chess. I think I have a little bit less maybe talent and touch than her, but maybe a little bit more power.”

Osaka made her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows a year ago, winning her first major championship by beating Serena Williams in a chaotic final that devolved after Williams got into an extended argument with the chair umpire.

Osaka followed that up with a second consecutive Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open in January. That allowed her to become the first tennis player representing Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.

This loss means that Osaka will cede that top spot to No. 2 Ashleigh Barty, who lost her fourth-round match on Sunday.

Elise Mertens cruised into her first appearance in the U.S. Open quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over American wild card Kristie Ahn. Mertens, the No. 25 seed from Belgium, needed a mere 67 minutes dismiss the 141st-ranked Ahn, a 27-year-old American who had become the comeback story of the tournament with an 11-year gap between Flushing Meadows appearances. She moves on to play the winner of the match later Monday between American qualifier Taylor Townsend and 15th-seeded Bianca Andreescu of Canada.

Later, No. 24 Matteo Berrettini gave Italy its first U.S. Open men’s quarter-finalist since 1977, and made it this far himself for the first time at any major with a straight-set victory over Andrey Rublev. Other men’s matches Monday included No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 22 Marin Cilic, No. 6 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 20 Diego Schwartzman, and No. 13 Gaël Monfils vs. Pablo Andujar.

Vekic, a 23-year-old from Croatia, reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by saving a match point and edging No. 26 Julia Goerges of Germany 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3. The other fourth-round women’s matches later Monday were No. 25 Elise Mertens of Belgium against wild-card Kristie Ahn of the United States, and No. 15 Bianca Andreescu of Canada against qualifier Taylor Townsend of the U.S.

“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said.

Well, here’s how: Goerges served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set, coming within one point of ending things right there. Not only couldn’t Goerges convert that match point, but she also double-faulted three times in the game and unravelled from there, wasting a 21-ace effort.

“It’s not about that service game,” Goerges said, perhaps trying to persuade herself.

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