British No 1 Katie Boulter came from a set down to defeat China’s in-form Yafan Wang to reach the 3rd-round of the US Open for the first time in her career, which should send her into the Top 50 when the rankings are released after the final Grand Slam of the year.
I think there were a few nerves, I’m not entirely sure why, but there were a few nerves in the first. After we finished that set I relaxed a bit and started to be a little bit more aggressive and it really paid off. Katie Boulter
On a warm day in New York, the 27-year-old matched her run at Wimbledon this summer with a gutsy 5-7 6-1 6-4 win over the World No 114, who was on an 11-match winning streak, including beating 7th-seeded Caroline Garcia in the 1st-round.
“I’m obviously super happy,” Boulter told Sky Sports. “At the start, I was a little bit nervous and I was nervous at the end finishing it, but proud of how I managed to get over the line.
“We played some unbelievable tennis. I have a few things to work on myself, but I’m so happy.
“I had a few set points in the first set, which I wasn’t able to convert. She played some really good tennis and I had to really battle and go for it at the same time.
“Credit to her. She is a great player and doesn’t make it easy. I managed to get over the line so I am extremely happy.”
It took Boulter 2 hours and 21 minutes to get past the Chinese in the first match on Court 5 on Thursday, and she was fortunate not be defaulted.
She avoided the penalty after inadvertently hitting a ball towards spectators during the match after losing a 20-shot rally in the first set, when a ball person threw her a ball and she swatted it away, spinning it into a gangway in front of the crowd.
Had the ball struck a spectator Boulter surely would have been disqualified, but the chair umpire merely issued a code violation for ball abuse.
“Firstly, the safety of everyone is the most important thing for me,” Boulter said later. “It was completely unintentional, and, luckily, it wasn’t anywhere close to anyone, but, for a second, I was feeling pretty bad, if I’m honest.
“Of course there’s a lot of ifs. At the end of the day I’ve got to play with the facts. It didn’t [hit anyone]. It would be my worst nightmare, it really would. Completely unintentional, as well.
“Yeah, it was an unfortunate situation, but we moved through, and we managed to get a win.”
The first set was tight, with Boulter retrieving an early break, and then carving out 3 set points on the Wang serve, but she was unable to convert on any of them.
Wang promptly broke her in the next game to wrap up the set, aided by Boulter throwing in 2 double-faults in the first 3 points, and wobbling alarmingly.
Somehow, Boulter regained her composure and she dominated the second set to level proceedings, and maintained her momentum through the third to win the match.
“I think there were a few nerves, I’m not entirely sure why, but there were a few nerves in the first,” Boulter said later. “After we finished that set I relaxed a bit and started to be a little bit more aggressive and it really paid off.”
Boulter will now face a 21-year-old American, Peyton Stearns, who is ranked 59, for a place in the Last 16.
Stearns’s run to the 3rd-round of the US Open is something of a surprise, and she will face a stiff test against big-hitting Boulter, who goes into the match as the favourite.
Later, there was disappointment for Jodie Burrage, Britain’s No 2, who put up a valiant fight against the World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka but went down 6-3 6-2 inside the Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The odds were always stacked in the Belarusian’s favour, but the 24-year-old Brit acquitted herself well against the Australian Open champion before bowing out.
“Obviously not the result I was looking for, but I had a pretty tough opponent,” said Burrage afterwards. “I thought she played really well today. She served really well, especially in the big moments, but I’m happy with how I played, in a way, and happy with how I was on the court.
“It’s a big occasion, and you’re playing a big player like that. And I’m happy with the way I went about it. I didn’t feel out of place out there at all.”
Sabalenka had suffered some early wobbles in her 2 previous matches, but she was nerve-free against Burrage, playing in a consistent and business-like mode to wrap the match up after an efficient 74 minutes.
“I didn’t lose my focus today, not for a minute,” said Sabalenka said later. “I’m super happy with my level today.”
This was the first meeting between the two, and while Burrage did not play or serve poorly, she found herself on the back foot, defending and batting against Sabalenka’s relentless groundstrokes, as she was driven deep into the corners.
The World No 2 faced, and denied, just one break point before she pocketed the opening set.
Sabalenka, who reached the US Open semi-finals in each of the last two years, was barely tested in the second, where she hit a forehand winner to go up a double break before closing it out with a hold to love.
“I came on court with mentality just to put her speed with her, her game back on her, and let her play with that,” said Sabalenka. “And, of course, the main focus was on my serve, so to be really solid on my serve, so, like, I can put some pressure on her serve.”
While Burrage kept her error count low, with just 11 in total, so were her winners, of which she fired only 7, and Sabalenka romped away with 28 winners and 22 errors to advance.
Next up for Sabalenka is Clara Burel, the 22-year-old French player who upset the No 25 seed Karolina Pliskova from Czech Republic in their Round 2 match.
Sabalenka is looking to bookend her season with Grand Slam victories, winning 2023’s first major at the Australian Open and seeking the title in New York at the season’s final major.
A win at the US Open also would vault Sabalenka to No 1 in the world rankings, displacing Iga Swiatek of Poland.
“It’s just a chance, first of all,” Sabalenka said. “It would mean a lot to me. It’s one of the goals and one of the dreams. I’ll do my best to reach this dream.”