Seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff recorded straight sets wins to reach the quarter-finals at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati later on Day 4, while Marie Bouzkova sprung an upset win over Jessica Pegula, and Jasmine Paolini advanced after World No 4 Elena Rybakina pulled out.
At this level you're going to meet with Aryna [or] with players like her all the time. I'm looking forward to having another great match against her. I know she didn't forgive me for Wimbledon semi-finals, so it's gonna be a fun match, for sure. A lot of emotions in that match, but looking forward. Ons Jabeur
No 2 seed Sabalenka dispatched Daria Kasatkina, the 14th seed, 6-3 6-3, in 78 minutes of play, but the match which was interrupted by 3 separate rain delays before the Belarusian improved her head-to-head lead over the Russian to 4-2.
“I was just hoping [the rain] is not gonna come again, and we would be able to finish the match,” Sabalenka said. “We finished the match with the win, against such a tough opponent like Dasha, so just super happy.”
The first rain delay came at 5-2 in the opening set, but Sabalenka returned to action unbothered, closing out the one-set lead with a service hold to love.
They exchanged breaks to begin the second set, but Sabalenka took charge when she converted her 4th break point of a gruelling 7th game with a backhand return winner to lead 4-3.
The reigning Australian Open champion then broke Kasatkina again for good measure to wrap up the match, finishing the encounter with a 5-for-9 success rate on break points.
Sabalenka’s opponent in the Last is Jabeur, the 6th seed from Tunisia, who advanced to her second hard-court quarter-final of the season after Croatia’s Donna Vekic retired when Jabeur was leading 5-2 in the first set and the match was suspended due to rain.
During the stoppage, Vekic withdrew from both the match and the doubles due to a viral illness.
“I wish Donna a speedy recovery,” Jabeur said afterwards. “I’m not sure what happened, but something was wrong. I wish her all the best.”
Jabeur is contesting her first tournament since falling in last month’s Wimbledon final for the second year running.
Sabalenka leads Jabeur in their head-to-head 3-2, but the Tunisian won their last meeting in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
“At this level you’re going to meet with Aryna [or] with players like her all the time,” Jabeur said. “I’m looking forward to having another great match against her.
“I know she didn’t forgive me for Wimbledon semi-finals, so it’s gonna be a fun match, for sure. A lot of emotions in that match, but looking forward.
“I love to play players like [Sabalenka]. I love to have that kind of competition, you know, that makes us the players that we are today.”
Meanwhile, 19-year old Gauff, the 7th-seeded American, won the battle of the teenagers to advance to her first Western & Southern Open quarter-final, defeating 18-year-old Linda Noskova, 6-4 6-0, in the Round of 16.
Gauff’s strong summer surge continued against Noskova, who defeated last year’s finalist Petra Kvitova in the previous round, as the American held the powerful Czech to just 4 winners on the night, while tallying 22 winners herself.
“We were breaking each other a lot in the first set, and I just told myself to hit the serve as hard as you can in the second set,” Gauff said. “It worked out.”
The Czech had advanced through the qualifiers and secured notable victories over Montréal finalist Liudmila Samsonova from Russia, and the Czech 9th seed Petra Kvitova, reaching the round of 16 in a WTA 1000 event for the first time in her career.
Gauff, entering as the 7th seed, received a 1st-round bye and made her Cincy debut in the 2nd-round against Egypt’s Mayar Sherif, securing a convincing win, 6-2 6-2.
On Thursday night, the two combined for 9 breaks of serve in the opening set before Gauff settled herself in the second set to seal the win over Noskova in just 62 minutes.
Her next opponent is Italian qualifier Paolini, who moved into the first WTA 1000 quarter-final of her career after No 4 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan retired from their match during the second set due to injuries, with the score standing at 4-6, 5-2, RET.
Despite ending via retirement, this counts as Paolini’s second career Top 10 victory, with her previous one being a 3-setter over Aryna Sabalenka at Indian Wells last year.
Currently ranked 43, just one spot below her career-high ranking of 42 which she set in June, Paolini reached her 3rd career WTA singles final on home soil in Palermo in July, while the 27-year-old has won one career WTA singles title, at 2021 Portoroz.
After getting through qualifying, Paolini handily won her first 2 main-draw matches this week, first defeating Marta Kostyuk from Ukraine, 6-2 6-1, and then beating fellow qualifier Cristina Bucsa from Spain, 6-1 6-3 in the second round.
“It’s kind of strange to be here because the first round [of qualifying], I was down and playing very bad,” Paolini said with a laugh. “I managed to win the first round of qualies, and it’s getting better and better match by match. I’m really happy to be here, I love to play here in Cincinnati.”
Rybakina, the former Wimbledon champion and 4th seed, had initially looked poised to reach another quarter-final, but, after winning their opening set 6-4 on Porsche Court, the Kazakh stopped when she fell behind 2-5 in the second.
Last week in Montreal, Rybakina navigated a clogged schedule that included a 3am finish in her marathon quarter-final win over Kasatkina, but she ultimately fell to another Russian, Liudmila Samsonova, in a delayed Sunday semi-final, and returned to action on Wednesday to outhit Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia in a 3-set showdown.
Meanwhile, unseeded Marie Bouzkova scored a Top 10 win to set an all-Czech quarter-final against Karolina Muchova.
Bouzkova upset Jessica Pegula, the World No 3, overcoming a mid-match rain delay to surge to an emphatic win against the American Montréal champion, 6-4 6-0., in 85 minutes of actual play, and reaching her 3rd career WTA 1000 quarter-final, all of which have come on hard courts.
After winning the first 4 games of the opening set, and then the first 3 of the second, a brief rain shower interrupted play with Bouzova up, 6-4, 3-0, 15-0.
When the match resumed, Bouzkova picked up where she left off, and won the next 3 games, including 2 that stretched past deuce to snap Pegula’s 6-match winning streak and score her 10th career win over Top 10 players, while she also has beaten the American in 4 of their previous 6 matches.
Her compatriot, Muchova, first reached the Last 8 with a 6-3 2-6 6-2 win against 8th-seeded Maria Sakkari, beating the Greek for the second time this year, having also beaten her in the 1st-round of Roland Garros on her way to her first major final.
Although the Czech has now won 4 straight matches against Sakkari, Muchova’s 1-hour, 54-minute win on Thursday was her first against her on hard courts.
Muchova was largely effective behind her first serve, winning three-quarters of the points played behind it in the match, and did not face a break point in the third set.
Bouzkova and Muchova have split their two prior meetings, and will be playing each other for the first time in 4 years.
Neither match came in a WTA main draw, with Bouzkova winning at an ITF World Tennis Tour event in 2015, while Muchova won in qualifying in Miami in 2019.