As the dust settles on the Serena Williams show, attention turns to the contenders making it into the second week of the US Open with the completion of the 3rd-round and, in what probably was the match of the day, Czech Petra Kvitova saved 2 match points before defeating Garbiñe Muguruza from Spain in a tight match tiebreak, while American No 1 ,Jessica Pegula, overcame China’s Yuan Yue in 3 sets to reach the Last 16 in New York.
“Oh my God, it’s been very tough match. I actually didn’t expect that tough. Garbiñe played a really great match. I didn’t see her playing like this for a very long time. I really had to fight, fight, fight to win, especially with a break down in the third [set]. Facing few match points in my serve and then the tiebreak was just a nightmare. Petra Kvitova
“I watched Serena last night and it was amazing how she was saving those match points, so I tried to do the same,” said Kvitova after her thrilling 2 hour 38 minute duel with the 9th seed, which she eventually won 7-5 3-6 7-6[12-10].
Muguruza, who like Kvitova has been struggling at this highest of levels, led Kvitova 5-2 in the third set, and later held match points, but the Czech, seeded 21, stormed back to take it in the match breaker.
Kvitova found good form ahead of New York in reaching the Cincinnati final, and is looking for a good run here, the two-time Wimbledon champion having yet to make her mark at the US Open.
Muguruza, who suffered first-round exits at Wimbledon and Roland-Garros before pulling out of San Jose with an injury, has not been at her fighting best this season, but she too found some form at Flushing Meadows where she won 2 matches and really should have won this one too, but let Kvitova back into the contest.
The two-time Grand Slam champion had to pull out every weapon in her arsenal to defend 3 match points in the 22-point tiebreak, but was forced to endure another heartache when she whacked the ball into the net on the final play.
“I left everything on the court today. I had my chances, was one point away,” Muguruza said. “I’m proud of my fighting spirit.
“I have had some tough losses this year, but definitely this one makes me feel like my fighting spirit was there, my tennis was there.
“Overall, I’m actually happy with what I showed on the court.”
In her 15th appearance in the US Open main draw, left-handed Kvitova has reached the 4th-round for the 7th time, and it was the 7th edition of the rivalry between the two dating back to 2015, which was a barnburner to the end.
Muguruza served for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd set and held 2 match points on Kvitova’s serve at 6-5, but the Czech escaped both to eventually convert her own 4th match point in the match tiebreak.
Kvitova’s highs were breathtaking, as she struck 43 winners to Muguruza’s 21, and, at times, she seemed unplayable.
She fired 3 consecutive forehands for winners to seal the match’s first service break for 4-2 in the first set but then, in the blink of an eye, threw in 2 double-faults and 2 forehand errors to hand the break back immediately, and another trio of double-faults at 5-5 gifted Muguruza another break.
Amid Kvitova’s swings in form, Muguruza remained consistent, and the former World No 1 ticked off the majority of her service games with little fuss, landing 67% of her first serves and winning 65% of those points, backing this up by judicious approaches to the net, with the backhand drive volley key to closing out the first set.
A single service break decided the second, with Kvitova nailing a bullet of a forehand winner to go up 4-2 but, at the same stage of the decider, that wing let her down again to put Muguruza up 4-2.
The Spaniard blinked on serve only once, when she stepped up to close out the match at 5-3 and started with a double-fault of her own.
She was also lured into error by Kvitova’s sudden strategic use of the slice, and was broken on a forehand shank.
The climax of the match saw Kvitova successfully walk her game’s tightrope, surviving a 10-minute game to force the final breaker.
She saved one match point with an ace and the second as a Muguruza forehand found the net, but was then unable to convert her own first 3 match points, but a spectacular running forehand winner brought up a 4th, which went her way when the Spaniard netted her forehand.
As a bewildered Muguruza sat in her chair court side, quietly wiping away a tear, Kvitova collapsed into her’s, sobbing, face cupped in both her hands, physically and emotionally spent.
“The beginning of the tiebreak was like a man tiebreak!” Kvitová exclaimed afterwards. “Oh my God, it’s been very tough match. I actually didn’t expect that tough.
“Garbiñe played a really great match. I didn’t see her playing like this for a very long time.
“I really had to fight, fight, fight to win, especially with a break down in the third [set]. Facing few match points in my serve and then the tiebreak was just a nightmare.”
Kvitova coughed up 12 double-faults but also fired 14 aces, while Muguruza sent over 21 winners to her 43 unforced errors in the process.
The Czech’s best US Open performances to date are a pair of quarter-finals in 2015 and 2017, and she will get the opportunity for a 3rd against 8th-seeded Jessica Pegula after the American rebounded from missing a match point in the second set tiebreak to defeat Chinese qualifier Yuan Yue, 6-2 6-7(6) 6-0, in 2 hours and 3 minutes.
Kvitova has won both of their previous meetings in straight sets, including a 6-4 6-3 victory in the 2020 US Open 3rd-round.
“I will face Jessica and the crowd, for sure,” she told reporters. “She is really playing very solid game.
“Not only here, but even whole season, she was really going deep in these tournaments.”
For Muguruza, with Wimbledon and French Open titles to her name, this was another defeat in a season that has been strewn with them, but it was also a respectable acquittal for someone who earlier this year apologised on social media for the ragged play and poor results that have followed the Spaniard’s WTA Finals triumph at the end of 2021.
Over on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Pegula reached her first US Open 4th-round pulling away from qualifier Yuan Yue after taking exception to missing a match point in the second to cruise in the third with a bagel set.
Yuan is the lowest-ranked of the record 4 Chinese women in the US Open 3rd-round at No 142, while the 23-year-old had never faced a Top 20 opponent before, let alone a player with Pegula’s proven consistency at the biggest tournaments, with 2 Grand Slam quarter-finals, a WTA 1000 final and 2 WTA 1000 semi-final appearances this year alone.
The first set went as expected, with Yuan’s ferocious hitting garnering her 4 winners, but also buried her with 11 unforced errors, while smartly contained aggression saw Pegula tally 8 winners to 5 miscues.
When Yuan found greater patience to hit her spots in a high-quality second set, she powered out to a 4-1 lead and, although Pegula inched her way back, the Chineses held firm at its climax, overturning a 5-2 deficit in the tiebreak, saving a match point with a terrific backhand winner on the line, and swatting away a drive volley on her first set point, her 12th winner of the set.
Pegula was able to reset for an efficient decider, though, in which the World No 8’s serve proved the lynchpin of her success, as she only dropped one point behind it.
Indeed, Pegula only lost 10 points on serve in total, 4 of which came in Yuan’s break to love in the second set.