World No 1 Iga Swiatek was pushed by Sloane Stephens but moved into the Last 16, joining tops seeds Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka and Jessica Pegula, but Paula Badosa, Garbiñe Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova all fell on Day 3 at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Honestly, I’m not playing my best tennis right now. But it’s good to win ugly. I’m glad I did pull it out, fighting a lot and bringing that energy at the end. I needed that. Ons Jabeur
Swiatek overcame 25 unforced errors and held a 17-9 edge in winners against Stephens after completing a 6-4, 7-5 win in an hour and 40 minutes.
The Pole won 71.7 percent of her first-serve points, and saved 7 of 11 break points while winning her tour-leading 50th match of the year, including her two wins at the Billie Jean Cup.
“I’m pretty happy that I started well, both sets,” Swiatek said. “I had some trouble closing it earlier, but I’m really happy that in those important moments I was able to refocus again.”
While it may not have been Swiatek’s most polished of performances, there was little doubt of the outcome as she handily took the first set and led 5-2 in the second before Stephens won the next 3 games, but the 21-year old recovered well enough to win the final 2 games to close it out.
In the first meeting between the two Grand Slam champions, Swiatek broke Stephens 6 times over the course of the match, and was able to hold the 2017 US Open champion at bay.
Asked to reflect on her best wins of the season, Swiatek recalled her 3-set come-backs.
“Well, for sure those matches, maybe, in Indian Wells, those three sets against Simona [Halep] and Angie [Kerber],” Swiatek said. “Yeah, it was pretty tricky, but also, at Australian Open, when I could come back after losing first set, that really gave me a lot.”
The No 1 seed meets Madison Keys next, after the American took out Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, 6-4 7-5.
Meanwhile, 5th-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia battled to beat local favourite Caty McNally, 6-3 4-6 7-6(7), coming back from the brink to advance to the Round of 16.
“Honestly, I’m not playing my best tennis right now,” Jabeur said. “But it’s good to win ugly. I’m glad I did pull it out, fighting a lot and bringing that energy at the end. I needed that.”
McNally, born in the Cincy suburbs, had 99 percent of the fans fully behind her, and brought them to their feet for each of her 3 match points, only to see Jabeur silence them again with a series of clutch shots.
Down 6-7 in the 3rd-set breaker, with the stadium pleading for her to miss one more time, Jabeur fired a service winner, an ace, and then watched as a McNally backhand sailed just past the sideline.
Over 2 hours and 23 minutes, the Tunisian and the American each won 103 points but, crucially, Jabeur won the last 3.
“I know there’s a lot of pressure on me,” Jabeur told the crowd, with a tired smile when it was all over. “I’m happy that, after that long, I got to win the match.”
The first Arab player to scale the game’s heights, Jabeur now is feeling the pressure of expectation as she wants to get more people from Tunisia to play tennis, and she’s been dubbed her nation’s Minister of Happiness for her sense of humour and easy-going disposition.
In McNally, she was facing a talented shot-maker and a crowd favourite, but also someone ranked 179 in the world, and the Tunisian 5th seed looked to be on her way to a defeat when she fell behind 0-30 while serving at 5-4, but she rescued herself by playing 4 aggressive and self-assured points.
She looked out of it again when she went down 15-40 while serving at 5-6 but, again, she reeled off 4 straight points and, finally, in the deciding tiebreak, it looked as if McNally was about to steal the match when she came back from 4-6 down to lead 7-6, but Jabeur rallied yet again, this time for the win.
Jabeur takes on the left-handed Czech, Petra Kvitova in the Last 16, who dispatched Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, 6-3 6-3.
Afterwards, 20-year old McNally said she is still friends with Coco Gauff, even though they have split from their doubles partnership.
At last year’s US Open, McNally & Gauff fell just short of winning the title, and have played just 4 times together this season, up until late March.
Gauff is now playing with another American, Jessica Pegula, and last week, they won the WTA 1000 event in Toronto, which resulted in the 18-year old becoming the new top-ranked doubles player in the world.
“I thought it was incredible. Yeah, no, I reached out to Coco and congratulated her on that milestone,” McNally told reporters. “I honestly didn’t know, like, that match, like, if she won it she was going to get World No 1.
“Coco and I, yeah, like we are not playing right now, as everyone has probably seen, but we still have a great friendship,” McNally added. “I still consider her one of my best friends on tour. We still support each other through the ups and downs.”
Sabalenka, the 6th seed, advanced when her opponent, Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya, retired from their match with the score standing at 6-3, 4-1 in the Belarusian’s favour.
Simona Halep, the 15th seed from Romania, also withdrew from Cincy on Wednesday ahead of her match against Veronika Kudermetova, citing a right thigh injury and giving the Russian a walkover.
Halep won the Canadian Open in Toronto on Sunday, which put her back in the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time in a year where she is now ranked 6th.
Kudermetova will play Ajla Tomljanovic after the Australian upset Badosa, the 3rd seed from Spain, 6-7(7) 6-2 6-2, for her 3rd Top 5 career win.
Another Spaniard was also toppled, Muguruza, the No 8 seed, whose season is not going to plan as she went down in her opener to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, 6-3 6-1.
It was a solid performance from Rybakina, who fired 8 aces and converted 6 of 10 break points, and did not allow Muguruza much chance to get into the contest.
Unsurprisingly, Rybakina & Emma Raducanu withdrew from the doubles as both continue to progress in the singles draw, the British No 1 demolishing Victoria Azarenka, 6-0 6-2, on Wednesday to meet Pegula on Thursday, who was a 6-7(5) 6- 6-2 winner over Marta Kostyuk, a qualifier from Ukraine, while the Kazakh takes on American Alison Riske-Amritraj.
Winning by way of a walkover, Riske-Amritraj advanced when Czech Marie Bouzkova pulled out due to a right trunk injury.
In other Wednesday matches, Belgium’s Elise Mertens defeated 14th-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova, 7-6(3) 6-3, while China’s Shuai Zhang posted a 6-3 6-4 victory over Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.