In the late matches played at the US Open on Tuesday night, Barbora Krejcikova, the 12th seed, was upset by Lucia Bronzetti in the 1st-round, but World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka advanced with a routine win, and Greet Minnen saw off Venus Williams.
I really have to give credit to her. It was just incredible, honestly. I mean, if she can play like that, you imagine that she can be in the Top 10 or perhaps No 1, or maybe win a Grand Slam, something like that, if she can play at this level. Venus Williams
Krejcikova came back from 0-4 down in the second set, but lost 6-4 7-6(3) to the unseeded Italian in just over 2 hours.
It was a disappointing opening-round exit for the Czech at the hands of 76th-ranked Bronzetti, who snatched the first set and then cruised to a 4-0 lead in the second before Krejcikova showed some resistance.
The former World No 2 managed to push the set into a tiebreak, but Bronzetti won it with relative ease to book her place in the 2nd-round, where she will meet Eva Lys, a German qualifier, who was a 6-2 6-1 winner over local wild-card Robin Montgomery.
Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, also lost in the 1st-round of the French Open, making 2023 the first year where she has suffered opening-round exits at more than one Major.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams was knocked out in her 100th US Open match appearance, with a heavy 6-1 6-1 loss to Greet Minnen, who came through qualifying last week.
Under the scrutinising lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 26-year old Belgian handled her first appearance there with poise as she faced the American favourite.
“It was incredible to play a legend like her,” Minnen said after the match. “I have huge respect for her, to be here playing at 43 years old is amazing. For me, playing my first time on Ashe, I enjoyed it from start to finish, and I hope to play many more matches here.”
Williams has won the US Open twice, but she made 1st-round exits in her last two visits to Flushing Meadows, in 2020 and 2022, and has tallied only 3 matches in the win column this season, falling in the 1st-round of Wimbledon and at Montréal, and exiting the 2nd-round at Cincinnati leading up to this year’s US Open.
Minnen, who executed a precision game plan and never took her foot off the gas, broke Williams at the very start, and sped off to a 4-0 lead before the American managed to get herself on the board, but the Belgian pushed ahead to claim the first set in 44 minutes.
Continuing to shut out Williams through the second, Minnen silenced the Ashe night crowd as they watched their heroine fall behind, 5-0.
Although Williams put together a solid game to hold serve and keep herself in the match, forcing Minnen to serve it out, the Belgian sealed the win on her 2nd match point when the American netted a forehand.
Minnen, who struck 24 winners to Williams’ 10 and converted on 5 of her 8 break-point chances, is 17 years younger than the veteran American, and contesting her 4th US Open.
She had the advantage of securing 3 qualifying wins heading into her 1st-round contest, while, earlier this month, she reached the final at the Polish Open, a WTA 125 event.
Williams’s build-up to the season-ending Grand Slam, however, was disrupted by a knee injury and she missed last week’s Tennis In The Land event, but the American praised Minnen after the match, which lasted only 74 minutes.
“I mean, I think, first, I have to give credit to my opponent” she said afterwards. “I mean, there wasn’t a shot she couldn’t make. Even when I hit really amazing shots, she just hit a winner or a drop-shot, so I don’t think I played badly. I think it was just one of those days where it’s just unlucky.
“My preparation was definitely minimal. But I don’t think that it necessarily affected the bulk of my performance. I think there are just shots where my footwork wasn’t really there. A lot of backhands I missed where my feet just weren’t there. That’s normal when you don’t spend a lot of time on the court.
“But I really have to give credit to her. It was just incredible, honestly. I mean, if she can play like that, you imagine that she can be in the Top 10 or perhaps No 1, or maybe win a Grand Slam, something like that, if she can play at this level.”
So, for Williams, it is back to the drawing board as she continues to try to revive the winning formula that propelled her to the top of the game less than 20 years ago.
Currently ranked 410, Williams has not advanced past the 2nd-round of a tournament since 2019 Cincinnati, where she reached the quarter-final round.
The former World No 1 has played only 8 top-level matches in 2023.
“I typically haven’t really played after the US Open for a number of years now,” Williams reflected. “I may reconsider that this year because my year didn’t go the way, in any way, shape or form, that I thought it would go.
“I was really getting good momentum into Wimbledon. That fall really kind of threw me for a loop for the summer. I don’t know. I might. But I don’t know what I’ll do this fall. Definitely too soon to say.”
Up next for Minnen is fellow qualifier Sachia Vickery in their first meeting, after the American upset Donna Vekic, the No 21 seed from Croatia, 2-6 7-5 6-2.
Meanwhile, Sabalenka comfortably accounted for Maryna Zanevska, a Ukrainian-born Belgian, with a 6-3 6-2 opening round win, but the Belarusian No 2 seed was left hanging when her opponent strolled straight to her chair without shaking hands before emotion hit, and she walked off court for the final time.
The 30-year old was playing in her final tournament before hanging up the racket due to chronic back issues, and, in what was her final on-court act, she left Sabalenka stranded at the net, looking perplexed as to what was unfolding.
Zanevska looked to be on the come-back trail after jumping out to a 2-0 lead to kick-start the second set, just as Sabalenka struggled with double-faults, but the World No 2 clicked into gear, and stormed home by winning 6 straight games on the trot to see off her opponent.
Sabalenka quickly put the political gesture behind her and celebrated with fans in the crowd on Armstrong by signing autographs.
“I think she played an unbelievable match and fought until the end,” said Sabalenka in her on-court interview. “I’m just really happy with the win.
“No matter what, I was able to focus on myself, and not the score. Hopefully I’ll be able to do better with every match.”
The match opened with 4 consecutive breaks of serve as Sabalenka coughed up numerous double-faults, but once she got her service toss under control, the Belarusian dominated the baseline rallies.
Sabalenka moved her opponent around the court with ease, securing a 3rd consecutive break at 3-2 before crushing a forehand winner 3 games later to wrap up the opening set.
Zanevska refused to bow out quietly, though, charming the crowd with smiles when she secured an early break to lead in the second set after Sabalenka missed an overhead smash.
The No 2 seed regrouped by immediately breaking her opponent in the next game, and quickly regained control, finishing with a big first serve to close out the contest after an hour and 17 minutes in which she fired 27 winners to 23 errors.
Thus, Zanevska’s 14-year career came to a close, in which reached a career-high WTA ranking last year of No 62 and won her lone WTA title on the clay courts of Gdynia, Poland, in 2021.
Sabalenka, meanwhile, still has her sights firmly set on a US Open title and the No 1 ranking, which she will take over from top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek if she matches or betters the Pole’s result this fortnight.
The 25-year-old captured her maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open in January, when she defeated Elena Rybakina in the final, but her 5 defeats in Grand Slam semi-finals, 2 of which occurred this year and all of which came in 3 sets, have also raised eyebrows, falling at the Last 4 stage of her past 2 US Open appearances to Swiatek and Leylah Fernandez, respectively.
Sabalenka heads into the 2nd-round where she will take on Jodie Burrage, ranked 96, after the Briton defeated Anna Blinkova from Russia, 6-3 6-4, in what will be the first meeting between the two.
In other Wednesday night results, former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin won her opening match against Ana Bogdan from Romania, 7-6(2) 6-4, and the American will face Russian Daria Kasatkina, the No 13 seed, in the next round, who fought back from a set down to overcome Alycia Parks of the United States, 2-6 6-4 6-2; Denmark’s Clara Tauson upset Anastasia Potapova, the Russian 27th seed, 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3; while Qinwen Zheng, seeded 23 from China, easily dispatched Argentine Nadia Podoroska, 6-1 6-0, and she will meet Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who was a late 6-4 6-4 winner over Barbora Strykova.