With three-time defending champion Roger Federer and the 2003 titleholder Andy Roddick set to go toe-to-toe at Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight for a place in the semi-finals and number four Nikolay Davydenko taking on 10th seed Tommy Haas in a lopsided top half of the draw, it was up to 17th and 20th seeds Moya and Chela to maintain the established order in the bottom half.
Moya will now most likely play third seed Novak Djokovic, who last night had taken a tight opening set against number 23 Juan Monaco, while Chela was awaiting the winner of the yesterday’s late-night, all-Spanish showdown between number 15 David Ferrer and second seed Rafael Nadal.
Moya needed all his experience to stop the charge of teenager Gulbis in a match between the oldest and youngest men left in the singles draw at Flushing Meadows. The 31-year-old Spaniard took four sets to oust the 19-year-old Latvian and deny the youngster his bid to reach the last eight of this championship on his debut. Moya, seeded 14th, won 7-5, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 in two hours, 25 minutes on Ashe.
Gulbis had shown equal measures of power and guile and had not dropped a set in dispatching number 30 Potito Starace, the unseeded Michael Berrer and number eight Tommy Robredo in quick order to reach the round of 16. However, in Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, the Latvian finally met his match and was quickly two sets down.
The 6ft 3ins Gulbis had not left all his game behind in the previous rounds, though, and fought back admirably to keep the match alive with a tie-break victory in the third set.
Moya had been taken to five sets by Germany’s Phillipp Kohlschreiber in the previous round and was on court for more than four hours to set up with his match with Gulbis.
But he seemed determined not to go the distance again and having tried and failed to close out the match in three sets, he pulled out all the stops to win in four, finishing the match with a sublime, angled cross-court winner on match point.
From the sublime to downright ordinary, Chela merely outlasted Wawrinka in an erratic five-set match next door at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Wawrinka of Switzerland, ranked 49th in the world, had twice beaten Chela in their previous meetings, including in the first round at last year’s US Open.
He was on course for a hat-trick of wins at 2-0 up in the fifth before self-destructing in the face of a more determined effort from the Argentine, who won 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-4.
Whoever emerges from the Nadal-Ferrer clash, though, will not be losing too much sleep about facing an exhausted Chela after this three-hour, 41-minute battle for survival. Both men had reached the last 16 courtesy of five-set victories in the previous round and the fatigue from those encounters quickly told on the rivals as they committed 117 unforced errors between them and lost serve a combined 15 times.
Chela started the game in lethargic mood as his 22-year-old opponent raced into a 4-1 lead, only for the Argentine to hit back and level at 4-4. It was too late to save the set but as the second set got under way Chela came to life, taking a 5-2 lead and knocking Wawrinka out of his stride, the Swiss player’s error count rising steadily amid some poor shot-making.
Chela served out to love to take the set and level the match but in the third set, both players looked poor with Chela emerging with a tie-break victory to move into a 2-1 lead.
As he lost the set, Wawrinka smashed his racquet into the ground to earn a code violation but the incident seem to spark the Swiss player into form and he stormed through the fourth set with a 6-1 victory.
The Swiss player quickly had Chela in trouble in the final set by taking a 2-0 lead and victory seemed within grasp, only for the see-saw nature of the contest to turn Chela’s way once more as three unforced errors helped the Argentine back into the match with a break and a 4-3 lead from which he would not be caught.
No such flaws were expected during yesterday’s evening session, where in addition to Nadal and Ferrer, women’s number one Justine Henin was due to take on eighth seed Serena Williams in an eagerly-awaited match between the reigning French Open and Australian Open champions.