New York | Sabalenka, Pegula, Keys and Kasatkina all make Last 16

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka stormed past Clara Burel into the Last 16 at the US Open on Saturday, where she will meet Daria Kasatkina, while Jessica Pegula set up an all-American contest with Madison Keys, needing 3 sets against Elina Svitolina to advance at Flushing Meadows.

Always tricky matches against her, [Daria Karatkina]. She's playing great tennis. Moving really well. Trying to get everything she can back. I feel like I have to be focused and I don't have to over-rush things against her. I just have to stay calm and just wait for the opportunity and take it. Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka took just an hour to swat aside Burel, 6-1 6-1, having dispatched the Frenchwoman here a year ago, firing 22 winners in the process at Louis Armstrong Stadium, to make, for the first time in her career, at least the 4th round in all 4 Grand Slams in a season.

The 25-year-old points to a change of mind-set after winning the Australian Open in January as the key to her recent success.

“I think, before, I thought on those last stages of the tournament, I have to play my best tennis, I have to be there 100%,” she said. “After I won it, I realised that you can struggle in the quarter-finals and the semis, even in the finals.

“It’s not about that. It’s about how you’re going to bring yourself back, and how you will be able to adjust to what you have at the moment.”

The Belarusian dominated Burel from the start, winning the first 5 games of the opening set on the trot, pretty much unchallenged, and never facing a break point.

Burel showed some resistance when she fended off a pair of break points in the opening game of the second set and eventually held, but Sabalenka quickly regained full control.

A semi-finalist in New York over the last two years, Sabalenka faced her only break point of the match in the 6th game, but snuffed out Burel’s aspirations with a well-executed drop-shot.

The 22-year old Frenchwoman threw her racket to the court in frustration after sending a forehand out, before Sabalenka broke her serve again for the match with a backhand winner.

“I’m super happy with the performance today,” the No 2 seed told reporters. “I think I played really great tennis today.”

She won 60 points, nearly double that of 62nd-ranked Burel, while broke serve 5 times and faced just the one break point.

Sabalenka, who will next play Kasatkina, the 13th-seeded Russian, says mental toughness is the key to surviving the two-week grind at the US Open.

Having lifted 3 trophies on the WTA Tour this season, in Adelaide, Madrid and the Australian Open, and been the runner-up at Indian Wells and Stuttgart, Sabalenka has now won 47 matches on tour this year.

She can overtake Iga Swiatek for the World No 1 ranking if she equals or betters the Pole’s result at the US Open this fortnight.

Daria Kasatkina beat Greet Minnen in straight sets in a historic meeting between two openly-gay players at the US Open

Her next opponent, Kasatkina has made a bit of history herself in New York, winning the first Grand Slam match between two openly gay players against Minnen, 6-3 6-4.

The Belgian qualifier matched her best US Open performance, having beaten two Americans, Venus Williams emphatically in the 1st- round and Sachia Vickery in a marathon Round 2.

Six years ago, Kasatkina reached the 4th-round as an unseeded 20-year-old in the early days of her professional career, but has not gone that deep since, until now.

As the 13th seed, the former World No 8 and a major semi-finalist prevailed over Minnen after an hour and 28 minutes out on Court 17 to return to the Last 16 in New York City.

Minnen stayed even with Kasatkina, saving a break point in the 4th game, and two more in the 6th, but, from there on, the Russian won 8 of the next 9 games.

She held a match point to finish it off in style, but then had to battle her way over the line, when the last 4 games extended well past deuce, and Minnen broke serve for the first time in the match in the 8th game of the second set.

In all, Kasatkina needed 4 match points to win, as, after two more chances slipped away, she had to save a break point that would have seen Minnen level at 5-5.

Kasatkina trails Sabalenka in their overall head-to-head, 4-2, but, in an interesting twist, both of her wins have come on the Belarusian’s favoured hard courts instead of her own preferred clay.

That head-to-head history has the No 2 seed firmly focused on the challenge that Kasatkina poses.

“Always tricky matches against her,” Sabalenka assessed. “She’s playing great tennis. Moving really well. Trying to get everything she can back.

“I feel like I have to be focused and I don’t have to over-rush things against her. I just have to stay calm and just wait for the opportunity and take it.”

Jessica Pegula saw off Elina Svitolina in 3 sets to set up a Last 16 encounter with Madison Keys

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Jessica Pegula, the 3rd-seed, beat Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, 6-4 4-6 6-2 on Arthur Ashe Stadium, setting up a 4th-round match-up at the US Open against fellow American Madison Keys, the 17th seed.

Pegula and Keys kept noticing their names near each other in tournament draws this summer.

“We were like, ‘I think the world just wants us to play’,” said Pegula, who is still trying to advance beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam event.

Coming into the match against Svitolina, Pegula led the head-to-head 3-1, and had captured their sole meeting at a major, at the Australian Open in 2021.

The Ukrainian has proven to be unflappable in Grand Slam matches since her recent return to the tour, reaching the French Open quarter-finals on a protected ranking and taking out World No 1 Iga Swiatek on her way to making her second Wimbledon semi-finals appearance.

In the early stages, Svitolina won the base-line battles, claiming most of the extended rallies and keeping her unforced error count low, while Pegula reached double digits in miscues after just 4 games, but the American deployed her serve more effectively, creating more opportunities and hitting more winners.

Svitolina, conversely, double-faulted twice in a game, and struggled to win points off her second serve.

When Pegula broke her in the 5th game with a return winner, she never looked back, claiming the first set in 40 minutes without facing a break point on her own serve.

In the second, Svitolina lifted her serving percentage and stayed even with the World No 3 for the first 9 games.

At 4-5, Pegula struggled to make a first serve, and the Ukrainian capitalised to earn 3 set points in a row, but she only need two, forcing an error off her opponent’s racket with a hard shot down the middle to take matters into a decider.

The third set presented a different Svitolina from the outset of the match, as she reigned in her shots and began to hit with more authority, the momentum now firmly in her corner.

Pegula was made to work, but she held serve to even the score at 2-2, and broke her opponent in the next game with some incredible shot-making of her own, including a spectacular lob, and earned another break point at 4-2 off her 5th return winner of the match, which she easily converted.

From there, she capably served out the set to claim the match after an enthralling 1 hour 51 minute contest.

Madison Keys came from a set down to beat Liudmila Samsonova in the 3rd-round at Flushing Meadows

© Elsa/Getty Images

At least one American is now guaranteed to reach the quarter-finals, as Pegula next faces Keys in the Round of 16.

Interestingly, the two have played just once, with Pegula besting the 2017 US Open runner-up in straight sets in a tournament in San Diego last September.

Keys came from a set down to eliminate Liudmila Samsonova, the No 14 seed from Russia, 5-7 6-2 6-2, on Armstrong, in a battle of aggressive base-liners who were as evenly-matched as their close rankings might suggest.

“It was exactly as I expected it was going to go today,” Keys said afterwards. “She can play very high level, and it was just, kind of, trying to weather the storm and seeing if I had an opportunity.

“Then when I did have the opportunity, being able to take that. Obviously, I’m very happy being able to get back into that match and play on my terms.”

Both benefited from largely uneventful service games until 5-5, when the 28-year-old American sliced a backhand wide to offer Samsonova her first break point opportunity.

The 24-year-old right-hander accepted the 6-5 lead when Keys netted a backhand, and later sealed the first set with a service winner.

Keys raised the crowd’s hopes by securing her first lead at 3-1 in the second when Samsonova floated a sliced backhand beyond the baseline, and although the Russian saved the first set point at 2-5, she didn’t have an answer for the forehand that the American then whipped cross-court to level sets.

Samsonova, who was treated by a trainer for a right shoulder issue during the changeover at 1-2 in the third set, dodged 4 break points before finally succumbing to unrelenting pressure from Keys, who ran away with the marathon.

Keys is playing on her favourite surface at the site of her best-ever Grand Slam result, and now eyeing a longer run.

Many are looking to Qinwen Zheng to become the next Li Na and win a Grand Slam title for China

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In another early Saturday result, Qinwen Zheng, the No 23 seed from China, slugged her way to a 6-3 4-6 6-4 win over Lucia Bronzetti of Italy in a 2-hour, 39-minute thriller on Court 5.

Zheng has taken a couple of quantum leaps during her successful 2023 season, on her way to fulfilling the promise that the 20-year-old might be the successor to Li Na and become the next Grand Slam singles champion from China

The Chinese looked ready to close out a straight-sets win, after a 26-point, 10-deuce game ended with a running backhand lob winner, as well as a break of serve to leave her two games away from the match at 4-3 in the second set.

As wild as that game was, that was only the beginning of what proved to be a dizzying end to this thrill-a-minute match.

Down that break, Bronzetti roared back to win the final 3 games of the second set, breaking Zheng twice to force a deciding set, but the Chinese came back from 15-40 to break the Italian to start the third, then dug out of a 15-40 hole on her serve to consolidate the break.

Bronzetti responded by winning the next 4 games, leaving her 2 games away from a first-ever Round of 16 at a major, but Zheng roared back and exploded past the finish line, winning the final 3 games of the match.

The second-youngest player to currently sit in the Top 40 of the WTA rankings, behind 19-year-old Coco Gauff, will challenge Ons Jabeur next.



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