Aryna Sabalenka, the 6th seed from Belarus, fought back from a set down to beat Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, 3-6 6-3 6-2, while her compatriot, Victoria Azarenka, fell to her next Last 8 opponent, Karolina Pliskova, 7-5 6-7(5) 6-2.
I was just trying my best. I was trying to serve well. I was trying to make her move. I was just trying to stay in this match as much as I could. She played unbelievable tennis. It was a crazy level today. I’m super happy with the win. She’s tough to play against. Aryna Sabalenka
With a partisan crowd in the house in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night, Sabalenka turned the tide against the in-form American, Collins, who came out firing to take the first set.
The Belarusian’s bid to reach the semi-finals for a second time in New York looked to be in danger, though, when she needed a medical time-out to treat a left leg issue, but she eventually fought back from a set down and sealed victory on the back of a double break in the decider.
When Sabalenka won a marathon service game to lead 4-3 in the second, she simply rolled on from there, breaking Collins in the next game, and capturing the set with her 5th ace.
She broke again early in the decider and raised her arms in triumph when Collins’ service return landed in the net on match point, beating the American 19th seed for the 3rd time in New York in the last 5 editions.
.“I just love the court, I love the crowd,” last year’s semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows said afterwards on court. “Even if you guys support her, which is expected, I love this place, and I want to play here as much as I can.”
Battle-hardened, Sabalenka had clawed her way back from a set and 5-1 down against Kaia Kanepi in the 2nd-round, saving 2 match points in the process.
“When you come back from that kind of score you know that nothing can hurt you,” she said. “You go into the next match and know that you will fight for it no matter what.”
Since then, Sabalenka has played freely, losing just 2 games to Clara Burel in the 3rd-round before finding herself against Collins, an opponent who was happy to trade power for power, and the American was the more successful for a set and a half.
Collins ran through the opening set with 12 winners to 8 unforced errors, outpacing Sabalenka’s 8 winners.
“I was just trying my best. I was trying to serve well. I was trying to make her move. I was just trying to stay in this match as much as I could,” said Sabalenka, who improved to a spotless 4-0 overall record against Collins. “She played unbelievable tennis. It was a crazy level today. I’m super happy with the win. She’s tough to play against.”
Sabalenka has been open about her serving struggles this year and, in New York, she has struck 25 double-faults to 16 aces, while she has been broken 13 times, but she also has broken her opponent’s serve 23 times.
She needed 2 hours and 29 minutes to get past Collins, and recovery will be key ahead of her 5th meeting with Pliskova since 3 of their 4 prior meetings have gone the distance to 3 sets, and she has not beaten the Czech since 2018.
The two met twice last year, with Pliskova edging Sabalenka in the semi-finals of both Wimbledon and Montreal, while Pliskova has shown great physicality throughout the US Open, highlighted by her 2-set wins against Belinda Bencic and Azarenka.
They have, in fact, split their 4 head-to-head meetings, 2-2.
“Right now I really expect great level from her,” Sabalenka added. “It’s going to be tough. It’s a tough fight.”
In a Round of 16 match, Pliskova overcame Azarenka in a battle between former World No 1 players.
“I think it was one of the best matches this year, for sure, from my side,” Pliskova said after capturing the win. “I think also from [Victoria].
“I thought the level was quite good for all three sets. We had long rallies, long points, long games. [I was] quite happy with my level.”
Pliskova, the 22nd seed and runner-up Angelique Kerber in 2016, overcame the No 26 seed Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets, in 3 hours and 2 minutes, on Monday night to reach the US Open quarter-finals.
Azarenka, a 3-time finalist in 2012, 2013 and 2020, has a strong record in New York, although Pliskova now leads their head-to-head, 5-4.
Pliskova, her serve firing, raced out to a quick 3-0 lead, serving with incredible precision and attacking her opponent’s forehand, which initially faltered under pressure, but Azarenka battled back and began to find her range.
She parked herself on the baseline and moved Pliskova from side to side, then fired off a few well-timed drop-shots to draw even.
Pliskova dropped her serve at 4-4, gifting the two-time Australian Open champion the chance to serve for the set, but the Belarusian played a poor service game, throwing in 2 double-faults and committing 2 unforced errors on her 2 set points.
The momentum swung back to the Czech, who won the next 2 games and claimed the set.
To begin the second, Pliskova saved 6 break points during an opening service game that spanned more than 10 minutes.
While Azarenka failed to capitalise on any of her opportunities, the effort seemed to empower the 3-time finalist, who went on to break Pliskova 2 games later and take a 3-1 lead.
She then earned a point for a double break to go up 4-1, which she could not convert, allowing Pliskova to deploy her penetrating groundstrokes with more authority, and the Czech broke back as the two continued to hold their serve towards a dramatic tiebreak.
The breaker saw Azarenka race out to a 4-0 lead and then hold 4 set points at 6-2, but Pliskova then won 3 points in a row, including 2 on the Belarusian’s serve, and it looked as if she might wrestle momentum back. again.
Azarenka held firm, though, on her final opportunity and let out a large roar as she finally forced a decider.
Pliskova immediately broke to open the third, and then really began to connect on her first serve.
Azarenka had to play a 10-minute, 6-deuce game at 3-1 to avoid a double break, but it didn’t matter as 2 games later, Pliskova broke at love to go up 5-2.
The final game featured a last bit of drama, as Azarenka saved 3 match points while Pliskova served for the match, but the Czech got it done on her 4th opportunity.
It was a hard-fought match between the two, in which Pliskova kept her unforced error count relatively low, firing 53 winners to only 36 unforced errors, while Azarenka’s struck 9 more winners than unforced errors.
In the first set, Pliskova had come back from a break down and saved 2 set points before going on to take the opener, but then fell just short in the second-set tiebreak as Azarenka levelled the match.
The tall Czech regrouped for the decider behind her first delivery, and she won 23 of her 27 first-serve points, 85 percent, and never faced a break point.
After two gruelling sets, the first serve was the major factor in helping Pliskova sail through the third and set up a Last 8 meeting with Sabalenka.
It is the first time this season that Pliskova has made it past the 2nd-round of a Grand Slam.
“Of course, [how I look back on this year] is going to change a little bit because I thought it was a disaster year,” she said with a laugh. “Now it’s going to be less of a disaster, no matter what happens.
“I thought the summer [during the North American hard-court swing] I just had some really good matches, which kind of gave me some confidence.
“Of course, everything is about confidence. Nobody forgets how to play tennis. You just need to sometimes relax a little bit. This can only happen when you win a couple matches, a couple three-setters.”
She will need to be confident when she faces Sabalenka as, again, little separates the two when they take to the court, tied in their head-to-head at 2-2.
“It’s always a tough match against her,” said Sabalenka. “But it’s another fight, and I’m ready for it. Whatever happens, I’ll be ready.”
The US Open remains Sabalenka’s most successful Slam, and she now owns a 14-4 record in Flushing Meadows.