Top seed Iga Swiatek was ruthless against her best friend Kaja Juvan, dropping just a single game in 49 minutes at the US Open on Friday, moving the World No 1 on to the Last 16 where she will meet Jelena Ostapenko, while Caroline Wozniacki won the battle of the come-back queens, as Karolina Muchova and Xinyu Wang also advanced in daytime matches.
“Honestly, I kind of have to learn to find more joy in that [being World No 1]. I talked with Roger [Federer] about that last week. He says the best way to approach it is to really embrace it, to be proud and happy about your results. I’m always looking to the future, trying to do the best job another day, so I’m glad I have people on my team who, kind of, remind me of the good work that I’m doing. It’s good to appreciate the process and the progress. Iga Świątek
Later, as the sun set over New York, Sorana Cirstea shocked Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff prevailed over Elise Mertens, Belinda Bencic outpaced Lin Zhu, all going the distance and reported elsewhere.
Defending champion Swiatek delivered a bagel and a breadstick to add to her expanding bakery when she crushed her pal, Juvan, 6-0 6-1, on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Juvan, who hails from Slovenia, mustered just 15 total points, and celebrated capturing her one lone game in the 39th minute of the encounter with a winning smile and a wave to the crowd.
“She was really killing me at some points,” Juvan said after her loss. “You can either cry or laugh, and I went for the laughing part. I thought it was just a nice moment to take it with a little bit of humour and I think the people felt it too.
“Of course, it’s not how I want it to be, I don’t want to be fighting for one game only in a match. But it’s the way you can enjoy the big stadiums, and enjoy the crowd a little bit.”
For Swiatek, this was her 10th straight win at the US Open, and she next faces Ostapenko.
“My level was high, and I didn’t make a lot of unforced errors,” Swiatek said later. “I’m happy with my performance and overall with the way I started, and then just, kind of, disciplined, and didn’t change my level till the end of the match.
“I really just wanted to focus on myself, and I think, also, because I knew that it’s going to be a little bit harder for me to focus because she is my best friend, I was actually more focused than usual. I’m happy that I could do that, and I was fully professional.”
Swiatek and Juvan met in their early teens when they teamed up for doubles on the junior circuit, and they won gold at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games together, becoming firm friends ever since.
Earlier in the week they went to dinner together in New York before they knew they would face each other in the draw.
“I think she just has a really good energy,” Juvan said. “She doesn’t change who she is, at least not considering the situation.
“I like people who are unique, and who are not afraid to be who they are. She has some interesting tastes in music and other things that she doesn’t think are weird, and same for me.
“It’s nice to find people that you can trust and, no matter what happens, you stick with them and they stick with you. I think we’re pretty loyal to each other. I feel pretty protective of her with everything.”
Swiatek admitted later that she took no pleasure in taking out her friend, likening it to scoring a heavy win against a sister, but she nevertheless played near-perfect tennis, surrendering just 5 points on her serve, 27 for 32, and finishing with just 5 unforced errors.
The 22-year old Pole admits she is still getting used to being the best player on the planet.
“Honestly, I kind of have to learn to find more joy in that,” she said. “I talked with Roger [Federer] about that last week. He says the best way to approach it is to really embrace it, to be proud and happy about your results.
“I’m always looking to the future, trying to do the best job another day, so I’m glad I have people on my team who, kind of, remind me of the good work that I’m doing. It’s good to appreciate the process and the progress.”
Her World No 1 ranking, though, is now on the line and Swiatek must advance one round further than Aryna Sabalenka if she is to hold onto it for this year.
Juvan also should feel proud of her run in New York, having hit a career-high ranking of 58 last summer, and making inroads into getting herself back into the big events by qualifying for the main draw here.
“I’m not the kind of person who takes the court stuff to the locker room,” Juvan added. “For me, you try to win and you do your best.
“When you’re on the court, you do your job, and when you’re off the court, it’s normal again. This part, that you can normalise this tour, that you have the chance to hang out with people that you like, even if you have to play against them, it’s what is special.”
Swiatek’s next opponent, Ostapenko, the 20th seed from Latvia, had to come from behind to advance past American Bernarda Pera, 4-6 6-3 6-3, after a tricky 2 hour and 48 minute battle out on Court 17.
They traded breaks to love early in the first set, feeling each other out, and soon were locked into rattling off powerful groundstroke rallies, creating numerous winners as they bullied each other’s second serves.
Ostapenko won many of the forehand return winners, while Pera took the backhand ones, and, eventually, the American broke to love at 4-4, served and secured the opener on her 3rd set point.
In the second, Ostapenko held the edge, breaking to gain a 3-1 lead, but again they traded breaks, until the Latvian went 5-3 up and forced the decider.
The 2017 Roland Garros champion remained focused and kept her foot on the gas as she went up 4-1, but Pera did not go down without a fight, and narrowed the gap, but it was too little too late.
Ostapenko now has a big task ahead of her Round 4 match, playing the World No 1, although the 26-year-old holds a 3-0 record against Swiatek, the reigning US Open champion, and could potentially cause one of the biggest upsets in the tournament.
Opening proceedings on Armstrong was Muchova, where the Czech 10th seed eased past Taylor Townsend, 7-6(0) 6-3, but she needed all her major experience and mental fortitude to fend off the variety of shot and sizzling energy from the American.
“First point was to get to the tiebreak because it was really, really tough,” said Muchova after the match. “We had some great rallies, and Taylor played unbelievable at net.
“When someone plays a similar game as I do, it’s not so easy. It’s fun actually. I was just trying to be focused on every point, and I’m glad it went my way.”
The immense hand skills from both versatile players were on display from the off, as Townsend escaped from a 7-minute opening hold, and then scorched a backhand cross-court passing shot from beyond the baseline shadows.
Muchova ramped up the velocity, and the highly-entertaining contest needed a tiebreak to determine the first set, in which the Czech steam-rolled through 7 perfect points to steal the lead.
The World No 10 sprinted out in the second to a 3-0 lead before a gusty hold from Townsend prompted a call to her team, ‘It’s time. It’s time now. Let’s go!’ with the Armstrong crowd rallying behind the home favourite.
Muchova, though, refused to be derailed, and made it into the Last 16, where she takes on Xinyu Wang from China, a 4-6 6-3 6-2 winner over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova from Slovakia.
“For me personally, a month on the road in America, it’s maybe more mental because I really miss my home,” admitted 27-year-old Muchova. “But it’s my job. I’m here in fourth round of US Open, so I can’t complain. I’m really happy to be here. The matches, the physical part, the body feels it, feels the work. It’s this job.
“Tennis, it’s what it’s about, balancing it. I have my team and I like those guys a lot. We have a lot of fun outside of tennis as well. So that helps a lot.”
The last time the Czech made the 4th-round here, she fell to eventual finalist Victoria Azarenka in 2020.
Since then, she picked up a semi-final run at the Australian Open in 2021, a quarter-final at Wimbledon that same year, and then a silverware showdown at Roland-Garros this season, and she has been rewarded with a Top 10 debut after her recent Cincinnati finalist finish.
In another thrilling encounter, Caroline Wozniacki won the battle of US Open come-back queens by rallying to beat American Jennifer Brady, 4-6 6-3 6-1, on Friday afternoon after 2 hours and 8 minutes.
Both Wozniacki and Brady have been the feel-good stories at Flushing Meadows, and their storylines converged on sun-kissed Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the 33-year-old Dane continuing her dazzling return by reaching the Last 16.
It seemed improbable a few weeks ago that Wozniacki, a former World No 1 and back playing competitive tennis’s after a 3-year break to raise a family, and Brady, the Australian Open finalist in 2021 but sidelined for 2 years with knee and foot injuries, would face each other at a major.
28-year-old Brady, just 4 tournaments into her come-back, and Wozniacki, playing in her 3rd, looked as if they had never been away by treating fans to quality tennis that at times had the crowd on their feet.
It was Wozniacki, twice a US Open finalist, who showed the greater fitness and a little less competitive rust, winning 11 of 12 games after dropping the opening set.
“I guess I always had the belief in myself,” said Wozniacki. “It takes a little time just to get back into the match rhythm. I felt like I had a great rhythm. I was working on my fitness to get back into good shape.
“Knowing what I’ve experienced throughout my career, I knew where I was at. Would I have been surprised had I lost in the first round? No. Would I be surprised if I keep winning? Also no.
“If I play my best tennis, I know I’m tough to beat. Someone really has to play well.”
Having traded early breaks, the opener was decided when Wozniacki, serving at 4-5 and trying to extend the set, suddenly found herself in a 0-40 hole, and took out her frustration on her racket by repeatedly smashing it onto the court, only for Brady to add to that irritation with a quick break to snatch the opener.
Going down a break in the second to trail 2-0, Wozniacki appeared in deep trouble, but dug in to easily win the set, and then raced out to 5-0 lead in the third.
Brady stopped the tailspin by holding for 5-1, but the result was inevitable, and Wozniacki now faces American 6th seed Coco Gauff, who later got past Belgian Elise Mertens in 3 sets.
“I can’t really compare her level before or after coming back from retirement,” said Brady after facing Wozniacki for the first time. “I’m sure she’s been training a lot, getting fitter, stronger. I mean, it was good enough to beat me today.”
Wozniacki has had more than most to overcome to make a return to the top of tennis as not only has she given birth to two children in the last 3 years, but she is also battling rheumatoid arthritis.
Back in 2018, Wozniacki was feeling unwell after Wimbledon, and when the problem did not go away, a series of tests confirmed she was suffering from the condition.
“It’s really hard to say why I developed RA because I don’t really know,” Wozniacki said. “There’s no one in my family that we know of that has RA or an autoimmune disease unless someone is undiagnosed.
“It could be triggered by various things, like, I was exhausted and my immune system was compromised at the time. Honestly, I was experiencing symptoms for quite some time, but it really took me being bedridden to really be like something isn’t right here.
“With the right care and people around you, you can really do so much, and that’s why I want to be an inspiration for other women going through the same thing.
“It’s important to have an open dialogue with your doctor about your treatment. For my treatment, I keep it to myself because what works for me might not work for the next person. It could be different.”