Throw in this: Van de Zandschulp had never set foot in the U.S. before he arrived for the U.S. Open.
Now, van de Zandschulp has another first of epic proportions. He’s in the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows — just the third male qualifier to get that far in the Open era.
“I think before the tournament, no one expected me to reach the quarterfinals here,” he said.
Van de Zandschulp continued his out-of-nowhere run, beating No. 11 Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1 on Sunday.
The U.S. Open had already been filled with upstarts and upsets. Defending champion Naomi Osaka and No. 1 women’s seed Ash Barty are done. So are men’s No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 5 Andrey Rublev.
Van de Zandschulp was part of a trio of U.S. Open qualifiers that reached the fourth round for the first time since the tournament began keeping qualifying records in 1982. He joined Nicolas Escude (1999) and Gilles Muller (2008) as just the third men’s qualifier to reach the quarterfinals since the Open era began in 1968.
Never heard of van de Zandschulp?
Well, there’s good reason: Before the U.S. Open, the ninth-year pro had only five tour-level wins, was never ranked higher than 117 in the world and had never advanced past the second round in a Grand Slam tournament.
Look at him now, his U.S. Open streak an unqualified success for the little-know qualifier.
“His tactic today was working perfectly,” Schwartzman said. “Maybe I had luck in the third and fourth to continue playing the match today because he was playing better than me.”
Van de Zandschulp should enjoy the run while he can. His next match is against No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who cruised into the U.S. Open quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Daniel Evans on Sunday.
Medvedev has yet to drop a set on his way to the quarterfinals for the third straight year, and van de Zandschulp would be the third unseeded player he would face at Flushing Meadows. Evans was No. 24.
No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina beat two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals. The Olympic bronze medalist, Svitolina has emerged as a contender at Flushing Meadows. She has not dropped a set in the tournament.
The 25-year-old van de Zandschulp had already knocked out No. 8 seed Casper Ruud in the second round. He also dropped the first set in each of his first three U.S. Open matches before reversing the trend against Schwartzman.
It has been a big season already for qualifiers. Russian Aslan Karatsev was a qualifier when he reached this year’s Australian Open semifinals.
The signs, though, were apparent that van de Zandschulp could surprise in Slams. He went 11-1 in Grand Slam qualifying this year. He made the main draw at Wimbldeon as a lucky loser — getting into the bracket when someone else withdrew — and reached the second round.