New York | Barty busted as Serena sails on
If anyone thinks this game is easy, think again. It has its fickle moments, those when you can strike the ball cleanly and with purpose, and other times when you are just a little off.
I still was able to create opportunities - just very frustrating that on the big points today, Q played a lot better Ashleigh Barty
Ashleigh Barty, the World No 2, certainly was off her stride at the US Open on Sunday, and she paid the price, losing to Wang Qiang of China, the No 18 seed, in a straight sets surprise upset.
Barty had looked invincible in her previous two matches but the fine line between winning and losing in a draw of highly competent women players was obvious as the Australian looked out of sorts.
It was Wang’s day, pretty much from the outset, as the No 18 seed, took out French Open champion, 6-2 6-4, to make her first Grand Slam quarter-final, saving all 9 break points to outfight Barty, who made 39 uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Barty came up with too little, too late to reverse the momentum of the match after getting off to a slow start in the first set.
In the cool conditions, her serve wasn’t as effective as usual, and she won just 57 percent of points on serve, well below her average of 64 percent, the third-best on the WTA Tour this year.
The biggest problem, though, were her errors.
Playing from several feet behind the baseline, she racked up 15 to Wang’s 6 and Wang was the more aggressive player, unloading a big forehand down the line when serving for the set at 5-2, and bending to her knees to hold her position on the baseline.
Barty made two mistakes to drop the set and didn’t make any major changes in the second, and her predictability helped Wang get an early break.
Down 1-3, 0-30, Barty finally made a push and got out of the game with a drop shot, a big forehand down the line, and 2 aces, but she gave up the momentum with more errors and a meek drop shot in the next game.
On break points at 5-2 and 5-4, Wang stayed tough and let Barty miss to seal the match.
The Chinese has made her first Grand Slam quarter-final, the 27-year-old is having her best 12 months on tour, following a run last fall in Asia during which she won in Guangzhou and made three semis and a final.
The effort boosted her to a career-high No 20 in the rankings this summer.
She also made the semi-final in the Bronx Open the week before the US Open and held 4 match points before losing to Camila Giorgi. and with her recent success, it was likely not an opponent Barty took lightly.
Wang next faces the winner of Serena Williams, who overcame Petra Martic in straight sets.
Asked about her homework to prepare during her on-court interview after the match, she answered with a laugh: “I think that’s my coach homework. I just want to enjoy now.”
It took Wang an hour and 22 minutes to move into her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final and she paid tribute to her former coach Peter McNamara, who died of cancer in July: “He helped me a lot,” she told the press. “Is really tough to me to hear he passed.
“I think he’s always been there with me, yes. He told me how to play the match. He took me to the professional tennis. He always believed in me. He told me I can be the top player.”
McNamara helped her reach the Top 20 last year but she had not been able to win a set from Barty in 2 previous meetings last year, losing in the Strasbourg quarter-finals and the Zhuhai final.
The Chinese delivered tennis of the irresistible quality she had shown during last year’s Asian swing to hit through Barty and score a career-best first Top 3 victory.
“I think I’m really focused on the court today,” assessed Wang afterwards. “I really enjoyed the way I played… I tried to play more patient [than in Zhuhai] today.”
An authoritative opening service game might have indicated that Barty had come out in top form, controlling points with her slice backhand and finishing them efficiently with her forehand, but Wang swiftly proved herself capable and patient enough to prevent getting herself ensnared in the Australian’s all-court web.
Coolly dealing with the Australian’s changes of pace and spin, Wang was disciplined and accurate in her baseline game, only occasionally drawn into error but more often able to redirect the ball around the court to out-manoeuvre Barty.
A booming backhand garnered Wang’s the first break; and as the set progressed and her level remained high, it was Barty who seemed rattled as her initial form fell away, racking up 15 unforced errors as she took the ball increasingly late.
Uncharacteristically loose mistakes squandered 2 break-back points in the 6th game and, instead, a judicious net foray from Wang put her 5-1 up.
Two games later, with Barty failing to execute even her usually reliable drop-shots and smashes, marvellous touch on a pickup saw Wang take the opening act on her second set point.
The second set saw much the same pattern continue.
The former World No 1 would have her chances to get a foothold in the match, and intermittently showed flashes of her best form, but whenever she appeared to have found some sort of groove, would lapse back into error on the biggest points.
Having fallen behind an immediate service break, Barty carved out 1 point in the next game, 4 more in the 8th and another 2 as Wang served for the match to get back on serve, but was unable to take any, taking her break point conversion rate for the day to zero out of 9.
Afterwards, Barty paid tribute to her opponent’s clutch play: “I felt like she was able to put the ball with great depth in difficult positions for me,” she said.
“I still was able to create opportunities – just very frustrating that on the big points today, Q played a lot better.
“I think I probably missed, on the slice in particular, half a dozen in a standard rally ball where they just float along, just clip the tape.
“That’s frustrating with things like that. It’s not missing by massive margins.
“There were times where I pressed, and I did miss by big margins. Q also forced me to do that with her depth, her depth control a lot of the time.”
Wang, by contrast, was resolute in her refusal to give up her lead even when Barty began posting a series of more emphatic service holds.
A fierce forehand was followed by a first ace to fend off the early potential turning point and, as the set reached its climax, the Bronx semi-finalist buckled down to hold firm in the face of dogged Barty defence and a series of challenging extended rallies.
For the most part today, many of Barty’s signature shots had let her down, not least her backhand slice, which kept finding the net at inopportune times.
Despite tallying 39 errors in total, however, there were signs towards the end of the match that the 23-year-old was beginning to find some sort of rhythm with her forehand.
Saving 2 match points in the 9th game, and holding 2 points to level at 5-5, Barty once again seemed on the verge of shifting the momentum, but Wang rose to the challenge in stellar fashion, eventually taking victory on her 4th match point to become the first Chinese player to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Peng Shuai in 2014.
Up next, with a semi-final berth at stake, will No 8 seed Serena Williams, a straight sets winner over No 22 seed Petra Martic.
The 6-time US Open champion Serena Williams booked her spot in the US Open quarter-finals after a 6-3 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon over No 22 seed Petra Martic of Croatia on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
In the first meeting between the two Top 25 players, No 8 seed Williams stayed steely, overcoming the solid play of Martic and a late ankle turn, which required a medical timeout, to notch up the victory after an hour and a half of play.
Williams improved her stellar record in US Open 4th-round matches to 16-2, and now has made it to the quarters in her last 11 appearances at her home Grand Slam event.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion will now face No 18 seed Wang Qiang of China in the elite 8.
Martic made her mark on the match immediately, winning 5 straight points and breaking Williams via a deep forehand return after the American had a 40-0 lead in the first game.
Williams, however, swiftly struck back, erasing 3 game points Martic held in the next game before breaking for 1-1 with a forehand winner down the line.
The Croat fended off another break point at 2-2 but was unable to get a look in Williams’s next 2 service games, as the American edged to a 4-3 lead.
There, Williams again pulled herself into contention in another game where Martic had game points, blasting a return winner to set up break point and converting that chance with a winning rally backhand to lead 5-3.
Serving for the set, Williams fired errors and a double fault, giving Martic 2 chances to put the set right back on track but powerful groundstrokes from the long-time World No 1 whisked away those break points.
The American reached set point after Martic missed a service return at deuce, and a deft drop-shot on Williams’s first opportunity clinched her the one-set lead.
Serena rebounded well from a brief scare at 2-all in the second set, when she twisted her right ankle, dropped to the court and took a medical timeout to have the already wrapped ankle looked at.
Williams injured her left ankle at the Australian Open in January.
“I was volleying, and it just went over,” she said. “That was a little frustrating, but I wanted to get it compressed really fast. … It affected me a little mentally because I had a rough year with injuries. I was like, oh my god, not again.”
While Martic had made the better start, breaking the Williams serve, the American broke right back to level up and stayed in control, hitting 38 winners on a sunny day at Arthur Ashe Stadium court, and rounding off the match with her 4th ace of the afternoon.
It was Williams’s 99th career win in the US Open singles competition, a nice birthday present for daughter Olympia, who turned 2 on Sunday.
“She was in my arms by now,” in 2017, Williams remembered in her on-court interview. “I think she was born around 11:30ish. It was, like, the best day of my life.”
Serena is seeking a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, and is now 1 of just 2 women left who have won a major, the other being Naomi Osaka, the World No 1 and defending champion, whom she cannot meet until the final.