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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Carla! (Around the Grounds at the 2018 US Open)

Robert Cole/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEW YORK — Who needs 30 lit candles on a cake? Carla Suárez Navarro was busy most of Monday night applying some delectable icing on top of on one of the biggest wins of her career on her special day.

Suárez Navarro’s 30th birthday celebration just happened to take place in front of almost 20,000 spectators inside of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the center of attention – fittingly ranked No. 30 in this year’s draw – ended festivities by booking her place into the quarterfinals in New York with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 22 Maria Sharapova. For the Spaniard, it marks her seventh career Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance and her second venture into the last eight of a major in 2018, duplicating her run in Melbourne earlier in the year.

Most of the storylines emanating from the press room adjoining Ashe Stadium assuredly would stem from Sharapova’s end to her unbeaten run in night matches at the US Open (23-0 in such matches before Monday night). But this is no time to take any spotlight away from the birthday girl, who was smiling ear-to-ear as she admitted that her birthdays plan had nothing more in store other than trying to survive and advance in New York.

“I mean, well, when I wake up, I just was thinking on that match. I just want to win,” said Suárez Navarro. “I mean, [it] was a really good present for me. I was playing also last year same day against Venus Williams, and I lost. This time I don’t want to feel like last year. I want to have a happy birthday, and I have it.”

Lacing up her shoes while playing Grand Slam tennis has now become routine for Suárez Navarro, who played in her fifth match in New York City during her birthday. The opponents who have “celebrated” on the court with her included a fellow Spaniard (Silvia Soler Espinosa), the No. 1 doubles tennis player in the world for most of 2018 (Elena Vesnina) and three former Grand Slam champions: Sharapova, Venus and Serena Williams.

“I [beat] Silvia, Vesnina and [won] today,” said Suárez Navarro. “I lost against [the Williamses].”

Those Williams sisters are such party poopers.

Playing on Ashe Stadium, especially during the evening session, could have very well been the perfect place to hold a party, as the festive atmosphere created on the court usually includes blaring Top-40 music over the loudspeakers during changeovers, fans acting silly when spotted on the jumbotron and a cacophony of noise that usually permeates the upper bowl of the stadium as points are being played.

Suárez Navarro, like many others, would prefer a more low-key atmosphere when celebrating another trip around the sun.

“Sometimes on [Ashe], it’s easy to…well, the crowd, the music, is crazy,” said Suárez Navarro. “It’s a really good show, but for the players sometimes, it’s tough, especially for me, that was my first match today.”

The celebrations had to be put on hold for just a few hours, as Suárez Navarro once again employed her trademark one-handed backhand to frustrate Sharapova, who never was comfortable throughout the encounter.

“I thought she played a great match,” Sharapova said of Suárez Navarro. “She was consistent when she had to be. She forced me to make mistakes. She moves extremely well. Those are all things that I think we all know going into a matchup against someone like Carla.”

Suárez Navarro is no stranger to the rarefied air of a quarterfinal at a major, and her steady approach to tonight’s match helped her set up a date with No. 14 Madison Keys on Wednesday.

“Just try to be focused,” said Suárez Navarro about her mindset tonight. “I always say the same. When I was there, I try to think about not too much things, just my work, my job.”

Job done, indeed. Now it’s time to cut the cake.

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