Wednesday in New York was one full of surprises as morning US Open matches saw the departure of World No 3 Maria Sakkari, knocked out by a 21-year old Chinese, Wang Xiyu, and Harriet Dart, who cried on her way out at the hands of Dalma Galfi, but Ons Jabeur, Coco Gauff and Madison Keys made it safely into the 3rd round.
It was a lot to process from the other day. I didn’t quite get going and felt pretty horrendous out there... I haven’t been feeling that well all week, but I managed to find something on Monday. I think it just emotionally took a lot out of me and physically I’ve been quite exhausted over this trip. Harriet Dart
Wang Xiyu produced a memorable upset to oust Sakkari, the 3rd seed from Greece, winning 3-6 7-5 7-5.
The 21-year-old, who won the junior US Open title in 2018, has never advanced beyond the 2nd-round of a Grand Slam before, but unleashed 35 winners while saving 12 of 17 break points to secure her win.
“I’m just trying my best to save every ball,” said, Wang, who is ranked 75 in the world. “I’m trying and learning.”
Coming from a set down, Wang needed 2 hours and 43 minutes to get past Sakkari in a nervy encounter.
Since April, Wang has compiled a 29-13 record, including reaching 3 finals at ITF level, and a 4th at Valencia 125 in July, before a semi-final run in Washington and a quarter-final in Granby over the past month.
Sakkari, though, last year’s semi-finalist, came into the US Open with a meagre 1-3 record in her lead-up tournaments.
Wang’s left-handed forehand was the star of the day, garnering her 26 of her 35 winners, while she employed a heavy cross-court to open up the court, followed by a searing down-the-line winner on numerous occasions.
After dropping the first set, Wang twice went up a break in the second, only for errors to creep in when ahead.
Having served 11 aces in her first-round win over Diane Parry, Wang committed 12 double-faults against Sakkari, but, in the end, she required a double-fault from the Greek to get over the line in the second set.
After falling behind 3-1 in the decider, the Chinese was supremely impressive as she ironed out her mistakes and gritted out a number of extended exchanges without sacrificing her easy power or bold shot-making.
Both raised their games as the match approached its climax, but Wang’s greater control and aggression netted her 2 consecutive winners to reach match point in the final game, and she converted when Sakkari sent her backhand wide.
One of 4 Chinese women to reach the 2nd-round in New York, along with Zheng Qinwen, Zhang Shuai and Yuan Yue, Wang will face No 29 seed Alison Riske-Amritraj, after the American held off Colombia’s Camila Osorio in a challenging 3-hour, 10-minute affair, 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6.
Riske-Amritraj held 4 match points at 6-5 in the 3rd set, but Osorio swatted each of those away to pull into a decisive 10-point match tiebreak in which the American regrouped, powering her way to a 5-1 lead and holding on from there, making the US Open 3rd round for the first time since her run to the Round of 16 in 2013.
Elsewhere, out on Court 12, Dart, the British No 2, broke down in tears after following up the best victory of her career, seeing off Daria Kasatkina on Monday, with a swift defeat at the hands of Hungary’s Galfi, 6-4 6-0, in just an hour.
Later Dart revealed that she has been suffering with illness.
“It was a lot to process from the other day,” said Dart. “I didn’t quite get going and felt pretty horrendous out there.
“It’s just disappointing to play like that at a Slam. You have such highs and such lows in a week.
“I haven’t been feeling that well all week, but I managed to find something on Monday. I think it just emotionally took a lot out of me and physically I’ve been quite exhausted over this trip.
“Of course she was playing well, and I knew that going into the match,” she added. “She got off to a good start then I came back a bit. I just couldn’t find my feet, which was a bit strange.”
Dart, who is currently ranked 3 places higher than Galfi at 88, made a terrible start, losing the first 4 games on another sweltering day in New York, while her vulnerable serve was pummelled throughout and she ended the match with a tally of 18 unforced errors and just 3 winners.
The 26-year-old could have taken the British No 1 spot from Emma Raducany, had she won, but she did not on this occasion.
Things went rather better for 5th-seeded Jabeur, who defeated Elizabeth Mandlik to become the first player into the US Open 3rd-round, 7-5 6-2.
“I’m very happy with the win,” Jabeur said. “Definitely I played better in the second set.
“Just happy that I managed the conditions. Was kind of tough to deal with the humidity, but hopefully I will improve even better and play even better in the third round.”
The Tunisian was well pushed at times by the fearless 21-year old American, who is the daughter of 1985 US Open champion Hana Mandlikova.
Mandlik, ranked 114, made a confident start, and her neat all-court technique effectively countered Jabeur’s creativity in the first set, during which she won 8 of 11 points at the net.
The wild-card twice went up a break and served for the set at 5-4, when Jabeur’s greater experience told as a slew of backhand errors came off the American’s racket to bring up break point, and the Wimbledon runner-up converted with a delightful drop-shot-volley combination.
It was the start of a 6-game run for Jabeur that took her to a 3-0 second-set lead.
Mandlik made one last stand to break back, but a series of superb backhands put Jabeur in control again, which included her 23rd winner of the day, a perfectly angled pass, on her first match point.
Jabeur will next face another American, No 31 seed Shelby Rogers, who booked her place in the 3rd-round of the US Open for the 5th time with a 7-5 6-1 defeat of qualifier Viktoria Kuzmova from Slovakia.
“Shelby plays really well on hard courts,” said Jabeur, holding a 2-0 record taking over the 2020 quarter-finalist. “She’s a player that improved a lot and it’s going to be a tough match, but the main goal for me is to impose my game, because I know I can bother her with the changing of the rhythm.
“It’s going to be tough playing her at the US Open as an American, but looking forward to give it my all.”
Meanwhile, 12th-seeded Coco Gauff advanced to the 3rd-round with a 6-2 7-6(4) win over unseeded Romanian Elena Gabriela Ruse to set up an all-American showdown 20th seed Madison Keys, who needed 3 sets to edge past Italy’s Camila Giorgi, winning 6-4 5-7 7-6[10/6].
18-year old Gauff looked confident on her second visit to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday, as befits her No 12 ranking in singles and No 1 status in doubles, and having recently added Roland Garros finalist to her list of credentials.
“I’ve always wanted to win in Ashe,” Gauff said in her post-match interview. “I’ve been coming here for years, watching Venus and Serena play, and now I get to be here and play.
“Finally on Monday I was able to get a win on this court, so I think my record now is maybe almost even here, I don’t know.”
Against Ruse, Gauff took control from the get-go, stretching a 4-1 lead into a first-set win that included a 128 mph serve off the American’s racket.
Ruse began settling into the match by set two, breaking Gauff twice and taking charge of the rallies to steal a 5-3 lead and although the American’s game began to waver, she managed to string together 3 consecutive games to get the 6-5 lead, but a clutch hold from the Romanian sent the set into a tiebreak.
With the pressure mounting on both, Ruse swung freely and Gauff did all she could to keep the ball in play and wait for the Romanian to blink and, while trailing 4-6, she did and she netted volley off a tough pass from Gauff to seal the American’s victory.
When asked about her 128mph serve by ESPN, Gauff responded: “Wow! Yeah, I don’t know how that happened. It didn’t feel like I hit it that hard.
“Sometimes I feel, like, when you try to hit the serve hard, it still goes fast, but that was not supposed to be that hard.”
Gauff’s serve was the fastest of this year’s US Open to date, and entered the history books behind Venus Williams’ 129 mph serve in 2007, and Alycia Parks’ effort at the same speed from 2021, while the fastest serve in the women’s game recognised by the WTA was Sabine Lasicki’s 131 mph rocket from the 2014 Stanford Classic.
Keys awaits Gauff, after she narrowly escaped a tight match against Giorgi in an extremely tight encounter of blistering ball striking.
The American roared back from a 2-5 deficit in the final set to win in a tiebreak, outlasting Giorgi after a 2 hours, 22 minute battle.
The match was full of errors, with Keys and Giorgi combining for 85 miscues, but it turned into a late-afternoon thriller in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Few crack the ball as hard as these two, and they are of contrasting heights, the tall American and the petite Italian, so it was a bit of a slug-fest.
Keys, a former Top 10 player and US Open finalist in 2017, was able to harness her enormous power better in the long run.
After securing the first set, Keys appeared to have a hold on the match, but in the second, Giorgi came out smoking, striking a much cleaner ball, and raced to a 4-1 lead, holding on to level the match.
In the decider, Giorgi jumped out to a 5-2 lead, twice knocking Keys down with deep backhands that skidded off the baseline, and then surrendered the next three games, allowing the American back into a match she had twice lost control of.
The 27-year old American is fighting her way back up the rankings, and looking dangerous on the back of reaching the semi-final of the WTA 1000 in Cincinnati last week, where she registered impressive wins over No 15 Jelena Ostapenko, No 1 Iga Swiatek, and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
Elsewhere, Rebecca Marino made it into round 3 for the first time since 2011, with a 6-3 7-6(5) win over Ukraine’s Daria Snigur, a 20-year-old ranked 124 who shockingly toppled 7th seed and former World No 1 Simona Halep on Monday,
“I’ve worked really hard to get to this point,” 31-year-old Marino said. And to have my results, kind of, come through, it’s really exciting.
“A little emotional too, in a very good, positive way. It’s all from a place of happiness and excitement.”
The Canadian walked away from tennis, plagued by chronic depression and cyberbullying on social media with taunts about her weight and her play.
She closed down her Twitter and Facebook accounts, announced that she was stepping back for a while, and some 7 months later quit the WTA Tour entirely, turning her focus to academics and the rowing team at University of British Columbia, until, after 5 years had passed, she agreed to be a hitting partner for players competing at the 2017 Vancouver Open, and the rest is now history.
At her peak, Marino had attained a No 34 world ranking, and now is ranked 106, and her win over Snigur will further boost her climb upwards.
“It’s an unorthodox game style where you never really know what’s going to come off her racquet,” she said after her win. “She hits a really great ball.
“You can see why she was Wimbledon junior champ. You can see why she beat Halep.
“It’s a surprising game where you’re not sure where the ball is going to go every time. I was just trying my best to keep in the rally and fight till the end. And it paid off.”
Marino was in firm control through the first set, then Snigur began to find her rhythm, which posed more of a challenge. “I sort of put my nose down and got there.”