Rainbow flags flew at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center as former Hurricane Ida dumped torrential rain on New York and spawned tornadoes across the region, but with two major show-courts now with retractable roofs, Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Barbora Krejcikova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep, amongst others, all made it safely into the last 32 of the US Open on Wednesday.
I wasn't happy that it started to rain but, when I heard that they moved us, I was really happy because I love to play on a big court and on the big stages. I think was obvious when I stepped on court there and I was playing much better tennis. I was just enjoying the crowd and everything. I wish in the future I will be playing more matches like this on the big courts, playing big players, that I'll be able to compete at the highest level to entertain people. I enjoyed it. It was amazing. Barbora Krejcikova
The severe weather resulted in the postponement of many matches, including more than two dozen doubles matches as the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency advisory, and parts of the East Plaza were flooded.
Spain’s Muguruza, the No 9 seed, was the first of a quartet of former Grand Slam champions to avoid the showers on Louis Armstrong Stadium, where she notched up a 6-4 6-2 win over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic to set up a blockbuster 3rd-round showdown with Victoria Azarenka.
The Belarusian has lost in 3 finals, including against Osaka last year, and she is yet to drop a set after a 6-3 7-6 win over Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.
The US Open is a happy hunting ground for Azarenka, but it is the one major where the Spaniard has struggled the most.
Muguruza, however, is now one win away from matching her best-ever result at the US Open, a round-of-16 showing in 2017 after edging Petkovic in winners by 21 to 19, and the Spaniard kept her play cleaner with only 14 unforced errors, while Petkovic made 23.
A flurry of service breaks occurred during the second set, with each having 10 break points apiece, but Muguruza was the more effective in converting 6 of her chances, while Petkovic was only 3-for-10.
“Andrea and I, we have spent so many times, so many hours on court together training,” Muguruza told the press, after her win. “We know each other a lot. [She is] one of the nicest people on tour.
“I just felt that it was difficult at some point to play, because, you get along well, but happy with my level. I think I played a very solid match from the beginning until the end.”
On facing Azarenka, Muguruza added: “I think it’s going to be a very difficult match. I’m so looking forward for those type of matches.
“I think I had two tough matches now, and if I have to play her it’s going to be another one. I think that’s the best, just to go out there and play with people that are top level.”
The pair have split 4 career meetings, setting the stage for an exciting battle in New York.
In the match that directly followed Muguruza’s on Armstrong, Azarenka, the 18th seed fended off a spirited effort by Paolini, the World No 99. but prevailed after an hour and three-quarters.
“I thought it was a pretty good level, especially the first set,” Azarenka said, after her win. “I felt that in the second set I had some opportunities that I didn’t close out, but she played a couple of pretty flashy moments, she took her chances.
“It really felt like she played really loose today.
“Overall I thought it was a pretty high-quality match, and I felt that I was happy that in the end I closed out in a strong way.”
Halep, the No 12 seed from Romanian, too, was an early winner, but on Arthur Ashe Stadium, in a match moved in there from Court 17 after Osaka’s opponent, Olga Danilovic from Serbia, was forced to withdraw due to illness.
“I am so sad to have to [withdraw] from my match this morning,” Danilovic wrote on social media. “I have been feeling unwell these past few days dealing with a non-Covid related viral illness.
“I was really looking forward to playing against Naomi on Arthur Ashe Stadium today, but not to be this time.”
Osaka will face Leylah Fernandez after the Canadian teenager was an impressive 7-5 7-5 winner over the experienced and tricky Estonian, Kaia Kanepi.
Halep has struggled with injuries but is looking close to finding her best form with an imposing win over Italy’s Camila Giorgi in a tough opener, and following this up with a more routine 6-3 6-1 win over World No 111 Kristina Kucova, a lucky loser from Slovakia.
“I have to admit I am more confident, because before the tournament I was a little bit worried having not played for five or six months,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “It’s always tough to handle the pressure but I think I did well.
“It’s great to be back at the US Open and to play and win some matches.”
Halep broke her opponent in the first game of the match, but a series of uncharacteristic errors enabled Kucova to haul back to 3-3 before the Romanian took full control, winning 9 of the next 10 games to win.
Her next opponent is Elena Rybakina, the No 19 seed from Kazakstan, who fought her way past France’s Caroline Garcia, 3-6 6-4 6-4.
8th seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic defeated American Christina McHale, 6-3 6-1, in a contest completed indoors after rain forced a delay to play on the outside courts.
The reigning Roland Garros champion had little trouble, easing to a set and 2-1 lead when light sprinkles turned into a torrential downpour and, about 30 minutes later, the match was restarted under the roof of Armstrong Stadium.
“I wasn’t happy that it started to rain but, when I heard that they moved us, I was really happy because I love to play on a big court and on the big stages,” Krejcikova said. “I think was obvious when I stepped on court there and I was playing much better tennis. I was just enjoying the crowd and everything.
“I wish in the future I will be playing more matches like this on the big courts, playing big players, that I’ll be able to compete at the highest level to entertain people. I enjoyed it. It was amazing.”
Despite being a Top 10 player, this is the Czech’s first time competing in the singles main draw at the US Open proper, and she struck 20 winners to McHale’s 5, and converted 5 of her 12 break points to preserve her, as yet, undefeated record in New York.
Next up for Krejcikova will be Russian lucky loser Kamilla Rakhimova, who is making the most of her second chance to upset her 32nd-seeded compatriot Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-4 6-1, in just over an hour.
In the night match, experience triumphed over youth as former champion Sloane Stephens’ deadly forehand sealed fellow American Coco Gauff’s fate, 6-4 6-2.
While they were evenly matched early on, the 17-year-old handed Stephens a critical break with a double-fault on the last point in the 9th game, and she never wrestled back the momentum from her 28-year-old opponent.
In the second, Gauff failed to convert the only break point chance she created against the 2017 champion, who had 8 forehand winners across the 1 hour 6 minute meeting on Ashe.
“The forehand was key today,” Stephens said “I wanted to come out here and really execute and play my game.”
That she did and, in the third round, Stephens now faces either Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine or 2016 champion Angelique Kerber from Germany, whose second-round match was postponed on Wednesday due to the inclement weather.
Elsewhere Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the No 20 seed, needed just 53 minutes to beat 19-year-old Colombian Maria Osorio Serrano, losing just a single game along the way, and she now faces Belgian 15th seed Elise Mertens, who beat the lowest-ranked remaining player in the field, Greece’s World No 234 Valentini Grammatikopoulou, 6-2 6-2.
After 5 quarter-finals and 2 semi-finals, Svitolina, the World No 5, was in a hurry to avoid any rain delays, taking just 63 minutes to power her way past Rebeka Masarova, a qualifier from Spain, for a 6-2 7-5 win.
The Ukrainian next meets Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, the No 28 seed, who battled past Czech Marketa Vondrousova, 3-6 6-4 6-4.
The World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, another player chasing her maiden singles Grand Slam breakthrough, also had little trouble in progressing, needing less than an hour to beat Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek, 6-3 6-1.
“I think it was a really solid match, and I did everything I could in this match,” the Belarusian told the press. “I’m really happy with this win. I think it was a great level for me today.”
Despite being concerned about injuring her hand during a nasty fall, Sabalenka said: “I’m happy that I was able to hold my racket, and I did everything I could after I fell down.
“I’m really happy with the win. And, we’ll see tomorrow. I think it needs to cool down and, after one night, I can tell what’s going on with my fingers.”
Sabalenka broke her opponent in the first game and never ceded the momentum as Zidansek struggled with her serve, committing 4 double-faults, and making 19 unforced errors.
The Belarusian fired off 24 winners, compared to just 8 from her opponent in the lopsided match, as she dominated from the baseline and made only 10 unforced errors.
Sabalenka faces American Danielle Collins in the 3rd round, who was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Kaia Juva of Slovenia.