A 20-year old Ukrainian qualifier, Daria Snigur, pulled off the first big upset of the US Open on Monday, beating No 7 seed Simona Halep from Romania, 6-2 0-6 6-4 on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
I think I started off very, very well, and then [Tan] kind of came back. She changed her game style. I felt like she was playing more aggressive, coming to the net. I was a bit thrown off guard, and then I had to regroup in the third set, because I know if I didn't, then I'm sure she could have won that third set. But I'm just happy with how I dealt with it at the end. Bianca Andreescu
“This match for Ukraine, for my family, for all fans who supported me,” Snigur said. “I want to say thank you all.”
Last Wednesday night, Snigur took part in the Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition, which raised $1.2 million for humanitarian aid for Ukraine that is suffering war since Russia invaded in February.
The event took place on Armstrong, which probably served her well on Monday.
“No comment, I think, because it’s impossible for me now,” fighting back her tears, Snigur said on court. “I think it helped me because I was here in Tennis Plays for Peace and, I think, it helped me a little bit.”
Snigur won the Wimbledon girls singles title in 2019, but failed in her first 8 attempts to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam before this week when, for the first time, she faced a Top 20 opponent in Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No 1 who is on a career resurgence.
Halep won 20 of her previous 23 matches ahead of Monday, but the US Open is her achilles heel, being the only Grand Slam where she has never reached the final.
Ranked 124, Snigur kept Halep off-balance from the get-go, and broke her 3 times in the opening set, as the Romanian produced 11 unforced errors to dig herself into a hole.
Halep, who has is now working with Serena Williams’ former coach Patrick Mouratoglou, bounced back in the second, figuring her way past the Ukrainian with an emphatic bagel, aided by Snigur’s 13 miscues.
The Ukrainian responded by racing out to a 5-1 lead in the decider, relentless from the baseline with an unorthodox swing to which Halep seemingly had no answer.
The 7th seed was frustrated, but she dug deep to fight off 2 match-points to cut the lead to 5-4, but Snigur, down 0-30, rallied for 4 straight points to win on her 3rd when the Romanian ballooned her backhand long.
Dropping her racket and covering her face as she fought back tears, Snigur could hardly believe it.
While Elina Svitolina’s run to the 2019 semi-finals is the best performance by a Ukrainian at the US Open, there are 5 of them in this year’s draw, and Snigur will be determined to keep her country’s flag flying when she faces Canadian Rebecca Marino on Wednesday.
Marino was a comfortable winner over Poland’s Magdalena Frech, 6-2 6-3, but her compatriot, former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, needed 3 sets and a wardrobe change to get past tricky Harmony Tan from France, 6-0 3-6 6-1.
Continuing her solid hard court summer, reaching her first WTA quarter-finals since 2018 in both Washington and Granby, Marino, the World No 106 has made a come-back after 4 years off tour between 2014 and 2017.
Striking 19 winners to Frech’s 10, the 31-year-old is now into the US Open 2nd-round for the first time since her tournament main-draw debut back in 2010.
Meanwhile, Andreescu was 19 when she lifted the US Open trophy in 2019, beating Serena Williams in the final and becoming the youngest Grand Slam winner in 20 years, since Maria Sharapova won the 2009 US Open.
Now ranked 48 in the world after injuries kept her off tour for long periods, the Canadian eventually saw off Tan of France, currently ranked 112, who also notched up a win against Williams in a 1st-round match at Wimbledon this summer.
“I think I started off very, very well, and then [Tan] kind of came back,” Andreescu said. “She changed her game style. I felt like she was playing more aggressive, coming to the net.
“I was a bit thrown off guard, and then I had to regroup in the third set, because I know if I didn’t, then I’m sure she could have won that third set. But I’m just happy with how I dealt with it at the end.”
Known for tricky spins and slices, Tan brought Andreescu to the net with her devilish drop-shots, but the Canadian tracked down every ball and committed just one unforced error in a bagel first set, which she closed out in just 25 minutes.
Keeping her cool out on the hot and humid Grandstand, Tan got herself onto the scoreboard and turned the tables in the second, breaking in the 2nd game and cruising to a 4-0 lead, and although Andreescu cleaned up her game, she couldn’t dig herself out of the deficit.
In the midst of it all and frustrated at the wind blowing up her skirt, Andreescu asked the chair umpire for an additional bathroom break to change her wardrobe.
“Will this not count as one of my changeovers? I mean it’s not my fault, it’s Nike’s fault,” she told the umpire “This dress is so, so bad… I need to go [change], this is really bad.”
Andreescu returned wearing a white Nike tank top and skirt to eventually beat Tan.
“It was just bothering me on some forehands. I just felt like it was kind of coming up a bit. Obviously the wind didn’t help,” she later told reporters. “But I meant no disrespect with what I said to the umpire.
“I was trying to convince him to not take away that washroom break, because I know we only get two. He was very nice to say it was totally okay.
“I could have definitely used a different choice of wording. So I apologise to anyone I disrespected. I love Nike and I hope I can be with them for the rest of my life!”
In the decider, Andreescu started showing emotion, putting Tan on the defensive and taking a 4-1 lead.
The Frenchwoman’s last stand came in the 6th game, when she served her way to a 40-lead, but Andreescu battled back, hitting the corners with her blazing backhand and taking that game for a 5–1 advantage.
The last game went quickly, with Andreescu snagging it after a topsy-turvy hour and 39 minutes that improved her record at the US Open to 11-1 overall.
“The conditions aren’t easy. I was sweating so much,” a jubilant Andreescu said on-court after the win. “I literally feel like this is my second home. You guys are so fricking awesome!”
The 22-year old’s draw does not get any easier as next up is Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, who double-bagelled Croatia’s Ana Konjuh, 6-0 6-0.
The Brazilian has been bringing the heat of late, taking the titles in Nottingham and Birmingham before beating World No 1 Iga Swiatek on her way to reaching the final in Toronto.
“[Haddad Maia is] playing really, really well,” Andreescu said. “I know I played her but it was back in 2016.
“It wasn’t an easy match, and I’m sure Wednesday definitely won’t be an easy match, as well.
“She’s playing really well. But I’m also playing really well, so I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
In-form Haddad Maia is showing no signs of slowing down in her first US Open as a seeded player at No 15, and she won her 1st-round match comfortably over Konjuh in 60 minutes, putting on a show for a crowd full of Brazilian fans out on Court 4.
She saved all 5 break points she faced, converted on 6 of 9 against Konjuh’s serve, and used lots of variety on serve, staying aggressive on return to keep the Croatian on the defence.
“I think first round is always tough, especially in a Grand Slam,” Haddad Maia said later. “I am happy with my performance.
“I think I was very disciplined throughout the match. I was nervous for sure, but I tried my best to be in the present.”
In her first tournament since May, Konjuh did her best to keep up by hanging in the groundstroke rallies, throwing in a couple of drop-shots and coming up to net to try and disrupt Haddad Maia’s rhythm, but the Brazilian remained laser-focused and found ways to come out on top.
“The hard work is working,” Haddad Maia said. “For me and my team, we felt prepared to come here.
“My goals are always the same. I don’t try to create expectations or else I will get frustrated. So, my expectations are about things that I can control, which is my game, my serve, and my returns and now my goal is my next match.
“Bianca is a Grand Slam champion, so she is a very good player. I will leave everything on the court. I’ll try to play as aggressive like I’m doing and I’ll try to enjoy it.”
Elsewhere, Maria Sakkari, the 3rd seed from Greece, was well tested by Germany’s Tatiana Maria, but prevailed in her opener, 6-4 3-6 6-0.
Sakkari tore through the 2021 US Open women’s draw, riding on a high of a break-through season that saw her crack the Top 10 for the first time in her career, and playing lights-out tennis all the way through to the semi-finals where she was stopped by eventual champion Emma Raducanu in straight sets, leaving her stunned and fumbling for answers as to what went wrong.
Opening her 2022 campaign with an emphatic win over Maria, she exacted vengeance over the German who brought her Wimbledon hopes to an end in the 3rd-round.
Maria used a variety of slice shots to take away the pace of the rallies early in the match, neutralising Sakkari’s biggest weapon and, within the first 10 minutes of play, the German was up 4-1.
It didn’t take long for Sakkari to dial in, though, as she reeled off the next 5 games to claim the first set, only for Maria to jump out to another 4-1 lead as the Greek’s service woes handcuffed her with 6 double-faults that helped the German pocket the set and force a third.
With coaching now acceptable at the US Open, Sakkari took a few tips from her coach and cruised through the final frame, holding off Maria to sweep all 6 games and book a spot in the 2nd-round.
Sakkari’s next opponent is Wang Xiyu from China and ranked 75, who got past France’s Diane Parry, ranked 74, in 3 sets, 5-7 6-3 6-3.
Another red-hot player on tour is Caroline Garcia, the Frenchwoman who won the US Open Series event in Cincinnati 2 weeks ago, and started sharply in New York with a 6-2 6-4 win over lucky loser Kamilla Rakhimova from Russia.
Garcia, the 17th seed here, surged to a 4-0 lead, serving superbly and holding twice to love.
It took 18 minutes for Rakhimova to claim a game, but it was pure dominance from Garcia that enabled her to take the opener with a flourish, using power-play and well-constructed points to dominate.
Transitioning up the court, and with her net play on song, Garcia maintained her momentum down the stretch, standing firm in the bruising rallies, and fending off any danger of a potential come-back before another confident hold closed out victory to cue the trademark ‘Fly with Caro’ celebration.
“I was really excited and looking forward to being back on court,” Garcia beamed. “Competition is the thing I like the most.
“Last week, I have been busy, but I’m really happy with the first-round win, and to be able to figure out something.
“It was not a perfect match but it was a good one. Now I can go back to practice and improve for my second round.”
Since shrugging off injuries earlier in the season, Garcia has hit her hot streak since June, and the 28-year-old has now won 27 of her past 31 matches, including 3 titles on 3 different surfaces.
The Cincinnati silverware was historic, making her the first-ever qualifier to lift a WTA 1000 title, and putting her back within the Top 20.
“Obviously the last week was pretty intense,” admitted the ambitious Garcia, transitioning from Cincinnati success over to New York. “We really tried to enjoy a couple of weeks, try to manage the external, the media, the best way we can, trying to learn from the past as well, and then focus on the past while recovering physically as well.
“Practices have been good, not great, but good. One day at a time, and happy with the win of today. Tomorrow is a new day of practice.”
World No 60 Anna Kalinskaya awaits, who will be wary of the all-court artillery possessed by the French seed, after the Russian was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson.