World No 1 Iga Swiatek opened her US Open campaign by crushing Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in straight sets on Tuesday in New York, while all of the Top 10 players in action on Day 2 also advanced to the 2nd-round, including Jessica Pegula, Garbiñe Muguruza and Aryna Sabalenka, but Jelena Ostapenko and Elena Rybakina falter.
In the first set I played pretty solid, but I needed to take it up to another level. I did that at the end and in second set, so I'm pretty proud of that. I like playing these first matches because it’s a pretty good test for me, and [I] can really find my rhythm. The last tournaments I’ve started with byes, which is great, but sometimes it’s pretty weird to play an opponent who has already played matches. Iga Świątek
Seeded No 1 in the Big Apple for the first time, everyone is gunning for Swiatek, while the 21-year old from Poland is working hard on not allowing expectations and pressure to distract her from her mission.
Opening the programme on Louis Armstrong Stadium, she brushed aside Paolini, 6-3 6-0, in 67 minutes.
“I think I just found my rhythm [and] could make her run a little bit more,” Swiatek said on court. “I know she has great touch, so I wanted to use my angles and I think I did that pretty well.”
Swiatek swept up 8 points in a row, and nailed her returns at the Italian’s toes, for an early break lead before breaking again for 4-1.
The No 56-ranked Italian battled hard, breaking back twice in the first set and then winning the point of the match in the second with a backhand winner after going to to toe with Swiatek for 27 shots, but although Paolini wrestled to stay in contention, each time a window of opportunity opened up, the Pole swooped to slam it shut and, with 2 impressive volleys on the stretch, Swiatek snagged the opening set with her 4th break of serve.
With speed worthy of a sprinter, Swiatek tracked down a Paolini drop-shot to fire away a backhand put-away and, with a laser return winner down the line put her into cruise control from 2-0 up.
The Pole did not look back, bagelling second set with extraordinary aplomb, having broken Paolini’s serve 7 times on the way, and reeling off the last 7 games to advance to round 2.
Having compiled a record 37-match winning streak to lift up 6 titles, including a second crown at Roland Garros, Swiatek stuttered on the grass and made early exits in Toronto and Cincinnati, giving rise to some concerns, but Tuesday’s emphatic performance signalled a return to the form that has taken her to the very top of the game.
“I’m pretty happy with the performance, and I feel like I have better rhythm than in Toronto and Cincinnati so that’s great,” Swiatek said afterwards. “I’m trying to enjoy that.
“In the first set I played pretty solid, but I needed to take it up to another level. I did that at the end and in second set, so I’m pretty proud of that.
“I like playing these first matches because it’s a pretty good test for me, and [I] can really find my rhythm.
“The last tournaments I’ve started with byes, which is great, but sometimes it’s pretty weird to play an opponent who has already played matches.
“Right now, we start from an even position and it’s pretty cool because I can really implement what I’ve been working on in practices.”
With Swiatek’s success comes increased attention and seeing herself in an ad on the huge screens in New York City brings a smile to her face.
“I saw that [in] pictures,” she said. “I was twice in Times Square in my life, and it was weird. I’m going to enjoy that just from my phone.
“Probably the most popular place I had my face on, so it’s pretty amazing.
“Just trying to enjoy that because I remember times where it was pretty hard for anybody to see me or hear me.
“It just shows how much progress I have done on court, but also off-court that I am in such a spot. So I’m pretty grateful.”
Swiatek has bagelled 18 sets in 2022, which is an ominous sign for Sloane Stephens on Thursday, the 2017 US Open champion who came from a set down to get past Belgian Greet Minnen, 1-6 6-3 6-3.
“I was just fighting as hard as I can and with your guys support, you pushed me through, so thank you,” she told the delighted crowd on Armstrong.
Minnen, who reached the US Open 3rd-round last year for her career-best major result, dominated the opening set, but Stephens calmly regrouped to take the second and converted her 4th break point to take the early lead in the decider to romp out to 4-0, before staving off a late charge from the Belgian to capture the match.
“It’s nice to be able to come back here and just play, enjoy myself, and have matches like that, where you fight through,” Stephens said. “It’s a little bit exciting – not too exciting, but enough – and then you move on.
“Obviously it’s always incredible as an American playing here.”
Stephens is currently 50 spots behind Swiatek in the rankings, but anything is possible once she steps on court at a Grand Slam, especially at the site where she won the title 5 years ago.
“I thought [in Cincinnati] I played well,” said Stephens, who lost to Swiatek in two close sets in Cincy earlier this month. “My level’s getting better, which is good.
“It’s unfortunate it’s in the second round of a Slam, but I’m just going to go out there and fight and battle.”
Another American Jessica Pegula, the 8th seed, raced through her opening match, like Swiatek needing just more than an hour before beating Viktorija Golubic, a qualifier from Switzerland, 6–2 6–2.
The American No 1’s relentless consistency has been the key to establishing herself in the Top 10 this year, and she has not lost her opener at any tournament since Indian Wells in March, entering the US Open fresh off a semi-final run in Toronto and a quarter-final in Cincinnati.
Pegula delivered another rock-solid performance against the finesse of Golubic, a former World No 35, conceding just 4 points behind her first serve, and losing her delivery just once, while she also was effective at taking the net away from the Swiss, winning 8 out of 11 points in the forecourt.
“Always a little nerves, I feel like, going out there for your first match,” Pegula said. “I thought I did a pretty good job of handling it, got through rather quickly, which I feel could have been a very, very tricky opponent, especially somebody who qualified and has a lot of confidence on the courts.”
Next up for Pegula will be Aliaksandra Sasnovich, fresh off a run to the Cleveland final last week and who defeated another qualifier, Elisabetta Cocciaretto, from Italy, 6-2 6-4.
Two Grand Slam champions lost early on Tuesday, Jelena Ostapenko and Elena Rybakina, at the hands of Zheng Qinwen and Clara Burel respectively.
China’s Zheng beat Latvia’s Ostapenko, the former French Open champion and No 16 here, 6-3 3-6 6-4, while Burel from Switzerland took out Kazakh Rybakina, the 25th seed and reigning Wimbledon champion, 6-4 6-4.
Ostapenko and Zheng, who leads 5 out 7 Chinese to progress into round 2, won a set apiece before the 19-year-old was broken first in the deciding set, but she quickly bounced back to win, firing an astonishing 21 aces in the 2-hour contest.
Zheng, who had an impressive run at Roland Garros in May, started her season ranked 143 but has already risen to the Top 39, having stunned two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep of Romania and French veteran Alizé Cornet en route to the last 16 in Paris.
“I did well in the first set, but gave her too many easy points in the second,” said Zheng. “I was a bit nervous, but the turn-around came at 4-4 in the third set when the whole crowd was cheering me on and I was happy to take the match.”
Zheng has now won all her Grand Slam debuts as she reached the 2nd-round at this year’s Australian Open and the 3rd-round at Wimbledon.
Burel converted all break point opportunities she created on Rybakina’s serve as the Frenchwoman joined the growing list of giant-killing qualifiers at this year’s US Open.
Ranked 131, Burel produced an assured display to eliminate the Kazakh from contention. who squandered 6 of the 7 break points she earned in the first set as she racked up 19 unforced errors, committing 37 in all over the course of the match.
Former junior World No 1 Burel capitalised on her chances to break in the 5th and 9th games and broke the Russian-born Rybakina in the opening game of the second set, going on to win more than three-quarters of her first-serve points under hot and humid conditions.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Muguruza, seeded 9th here in New York, scored a welcome win over Denmark’s young talent, Clara Tauson, 6-3 7-6(5).
The Spaniard has won two Grand Slam titles, but the US Open has been the major where she has had the least success, with the 2016 Roland Garros and 2017 Wimbledon champion’s record standing at only 10-9 at Flushing Meadows coming into her 1st-round battle against up-and-coming Tauson.
Muguruza, though, was able to prevail over the 19-year-old Dane in a hair over 2 hours, which could help to turn around a below-par 2022 for the former World No 1.
“I’m pleased with this match,” Muguruza said later. “Obviously I’m not taking any win for granted, especially this year. It’s been a year where I haven’t had many wins.
“So very happy to get this first round here in US Open. I’ve had some early exits here, so it was very important for me to go through this first challenge.”
Behind heavy ground stroked, Muguruza swept to a set-and-a-break lead at 3-2 in the second set, but Tauson, who won 2 WTA singles titles during her break-through 2021 before her 2022 has been marred by back injuries, used big serves and deft passes to fight back, eventually holding 3 set points at 5-4 0-40.
Muguruza refused to yield, fending off each of those chances to hold on, and although a similar scenario occurred in the tiebreak, the Spaniard found sturdy serves and drew errors from her younger opponent to come back from 1-4 down, grabbing the topsy-turvy set for the win.
An even younger opponent awaits Muguruza in the 2nd-round: in 17-year-old Czech qualifier Linda Fruhvirtova, who beat China’s Wang Xinyu, 6-3 6-4.
Last year’s semi-finalist Sabalenka has endured a somewhat torrid 2022, with her trademark power hindered at times by large batches of double-faults, but the Belarusian raced past American qualifier Catherine Harrison, 6-1 6-3, on Tuesday, out on Court 10.
To her credit, Sabalenka committed only 4 double-faults against the American, ranked 243, on her way to a 1-hour, 28-minute win.
Sabalenka’s control over her heavy hitting was also impressive, as she posted 28 winners to 13 unforced errors and although Harrison scored a break back in each set, she was unable to halt the 6th seed’s momentum, who now has a tough 2nd-round match lined up against upset artist Kaia Kanepi.
The Estonian, who just missed the seedings this fortnight and has beaten Sabalenka both times they have met, including at this year’s Australian Open, took out Czech Tereza Martincova, 7-6(4) 6-3.
Elsewhere, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic ended her career after her 6-2 4-6 6-4 loss to Belinda Bencic, the 13th seed from Switzerland, and they shared a hug at the net before she soaked up the warm fan ovation and then headed into retirement, a little more than a week before her 35th birthday.
The German won 7 singles titles and reached a career high of 9 in the rankings.
Petkovic said she still loves the game but ‘it’s more the body that is not allowing me to play tennis anymore in a way that I want to play it, train the way I want to train, just play a full season really’.