As dusk settled on New York, Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina advanced to the Last 32 at the US Open in the Thursday night sessions.
It was a very difficult match. It was a tough beginning of the match. But I was always there. That was the key—you always have to win two sets to win the match, and I knew at some point I would have a chance to come back. Daria Kasatkina
Pegula, the World No 3, made easy work of Patricia Maria Tig, 6-3 6-1, effectively crushing the Romanian who has been ranked as high as 56 but is now languishing at No 700.
A frigid start on a cooler-than-normal evening in Queens featured a trade of breaks in the first 3 games, but the back-and-forth didn’t last long, as the 3rd seed settled in, and found her range to pull away.
Pegula finished in fine form, winning 8 of the final 9 games.
“It was awkward,” Pegula said of the tricky dynamics of the match. “We haven’t played each other; we were both nervous.
“Playing at night, conditions are different. It’s kind of cool tonight, totally different than when I played here the other day. You just have to adjust and get used to it.”
The clean ball-striking of the top-ranked American was more than Tig could handle in a match that lasted just over an hour, and saw Pegula win 80% of her first-serve points as she broke the Romanian’s serve 6 times.
Next up for the 3rd seed is Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, who came from behind to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia earlier in the day.
“Every single match we play is just a really good battle,” said Pegula of Svitolina, against whom she holds a 3-1 advantage and edged in a 3-set battle in Washington DC earlier this summer. “I feel like we play to each other’s games, where we make each other play better, and we always have really great matches.”
Svitolina returned in April following the birth of her daughter, and Pegula said she was already in top form.
“It’s great to see her back, playing at such a high level so quickly. I just played her a few weeks ago, so it’s going to be very tough,” she said.
Pegula took to Arthur Ashe Stadium court after defending men’s champion Carlos Alcaraz won his 2nd-round match, and she said she is starting to feel comfortable on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I never thought that I would be getting used to Ashe, but somehow I am,” she said. “But it’s hard to follow Carlos. It’s a tough act to follow, man!”
Meanwhile, Jabeur, the 5th seed from Tunisia, who lost to Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final this summer, was pushed by 18-year-old Czech player Linda Noskova before emerging with a 7-6(7) 4-6 6-3 win after a 2 hour 9 minute battle on the Grandstand court under the lights.
Jabeur pulled off another close call, having survived 2 tight sets against Colombia’s Camila Osorio in the 1st-round, and she was pushed even further by Noskova on Thursday night when she went down a break at 3-2 in the third set.
She won the next 4 games in a row, though, to prevail.
“I think it was a great match for both of us,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference. “I do respect [Noskova] a lot. I think she’s the future in tennis, for sure. It was nice to get the win, even though it was very difficult, especially the second set, for me.”
Noskova, currently sitting at a career-high ranking of 41, had won their only previous meeting in the Adelaide semi-finals in January, and she breezed to a 5-1 lead at the start before Jabeur came storming back by winning 3 quick games.
Jabeur then eked out a 55-minute first set in the tiebreak, converting her 3rd set point with a forehand winner.
Noskova stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second, as Jabeur, who had been dogged by breathing difficulties and other health issues in her last match, took a tumble chasing a low shot at the net, and appeared somewhat shaken as the big-hitting Czech held her serve to level the match.
The Tunisian said she was still not at 100% but added that playing in the night session had helped her.
“But yeah, I’m taking it slow,” Jabeur said. “Not really slow in this match, but I have one day off and hopefully I’ll feel better after tomorrow.
“It’s tricky to feel sick during a tournament so we manage with the team. Let’s see what’s going to happen.”
In the decider, Jabeur fell behind a break at 2-3, but she quickly regrouped, sending a forehand past Noskova to level at 3-3.
The Tunisian then broke serve again with a backhand winner to lead 5-3, and gritted through a tough hold to close out the victory, converting on her 4th match point.
“I tried to stay calm and, obviously, the crowd didn’t give up, so thank you so much for pushing me,” Jabeur told the supportive audience in her on-court interview. “This is a very special tournament and, I think, I’m going to use ‘warrior’ as a symbol for this tournament to continue to the end.”
Jabeur finished with 17 more winners and only 5 more unforced errors than Noskova, while each had 4 breaks of serve in the match.
The No 5 seed will have to face another Czech in Saturday’s 3rd-round when she meets Marie Bouzkova, the Czech No 31 seed, who breezed past Croatia’s Petra Martic, 6-1 6-2, also on Thursday.
In their lone previous meeting, Jabeur came back from a set down to beat Bouzkova in last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals, when the Tunisian made her first Grand Slam final in London later that week.
“I have a lot of respect for Czech tennis school, in general,” Jabeur said. “They really, really have amazing players.
“Another test [against] Marie. She’s amazing, too. It’s going to be tough playing her, but I’m going to get ready and hopefully prepare well for the match.”
Elsewhere, Kasatkina, the Russian 13th seed, battled back to defeat American Sofia Kenin, 2-6 6-4 6-4, to reach the 3rd-round.
Kasatkina looked to be heading for the exit door when Kenin cruised through the first set and took a 3-1 lead in the second, but the Russian settled herself and broke the American for 3-3, and then once again to level the contest at a set apiece.
Kenin, a former Australian Open champion who is now ranked No 101 in the world, broke in the opening game of the decider, but she was broken right back in a match that featured a total of 14 breaks of serve.
“It was a very difficult match,” Kasatkina said on court afterwards. “It was a tough beginning of the match. But I was always there. That was the key—you always have to win two sets to win the match, and I knew at some point I would have a chance to come back.”
Kenin, who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency since her 2020 Australian Open title, was on fire from the outset before it all rather fell apart when Kasatkina’s whipping forehand began to find its mark, and her trademark backhand stayed steady and true.
In the topsy-turvy decider, 6 of the 10 games went to deuce, with Kenin leading 1-0 and 3-2, then Kasatkina 2-1 and 4-3.
The Russian extended her advantage to 5-3 with another break of serve, and, after dropping her own while serving for the match, finished the match with a final break when Kenin sent her forehand flying wide.
Next up for Kasatkina is Greet Minnen, the 26-year-old Belgian qualifier who eliminated Venus Williams in the opening round, and beat Sachia Vickery, the 204th-ranked American qualifier, 6-3 4-6 6-4, on Thursday evening.
Under the lights, Minnen proved her 1st-round win against the tennis legend was not a flash in the pan, and she now finds herself in the 3rd-round of the US Open for the second time in her career.
Both held their own at the start, but it was Minnen who held for 3-2, though, and she pounded her shots into Vickery’s weaker side, pushing her opponent into a defensive ball chase, before she then was able to close first set out.
Vickery’s game got more bold, cheered on by the Court 17 crowd, and she was able to land the second.
“The crowd was quite tough on me,” admitted Minnen later. “It wasn’t easy to manage, but I’m proud of my mental effort today.”
Vickery held after an 11-minute game ensued at the start of the decider, but, despite the chants from the crowd in the American’s favour, Minnen snatched back control and she broke at 4-4 before finishing the match on her serve.
“[Kasatkina]’s been at the top of the game for many years,” Minnen said of playing the Russian next. “I’ll have to play my best tennis to beat her, and play aggressive to have a chance. But, I have nothing to lose.”