Day 4 kicked off with early wins at the US Open for Marketa Vondrousova, Madison Keys and Elina Svitolina, but Karolina Pliskova fell to Clara Burel, who set up a 3rd-round meeting with Aryna Sabalenka, an easy winner over Jodie Burrage on Thursday afternoon.
It’s a tough position. I feel, like, everybody wants to beat me. I’m just happy to be here and play good tennis. Marketa Vondrousova
Vondrousova, the 9th seed from Czech Republic, is currently enjoying the best season of her career, having won the Wimbledon title in July, and she rolled past fellow lefty and 2022 Roland Garros semi-finalist Martina Trevisan, 6-2 6-2, to reach the Last 32 of the US Open for the second time.
Coming into the match, Vondrousova carried all the momentum, having won 6 of her last 8 matches since Wimbledon, all in straight sets, with her only losses coming against World No 1 Iga Swiatek in Cincinnati and Coco Gauff in Montreal.
All the more impressive is that she is a perfect 16-0 against lower-ranked opponents this season, and she broke little sweat in traversing the stubborn Martina Trevisan from Italy, 6-2 6-2, after 80 minutes on the Grandstand.
“I’m very happy with the way I’m playing,” Vondrousova said afterwards. “It’s never easy, and I feel like it’s very tough matches. I’m very happy with the scores.
“We played so many good rallies. I feel like she has a similar game to mine. It was kind of tough. I’m just happy with my game and with the way I’m handling it.”
It was the 24-year-old Czech’s first outing against the tricky Trevisan, but her solid consistency quickly turned things in her favour when she broke the No 58-ranked Italian to open the match and, again, when a forehand soared wide to make it 5-2.
Vondrousova served out the 36-minute first set easily, blasting a forehand winner, while the second began much in the same way, converting her 4th break point of a 14-minute game when Trevisan’s forehand missed again.
It was 3-0 when Trevisan hit yet another forehand into the net, and she trailed Vondrousova all the way to the finish line, with her 5 double-faults and 40 unforced errors in tow, which were 27 more than the cagey Czech.
Looking to match her best run in New York, a 4th-round berth in 2018, Vondrousova finds herself in the uncomfortable role of being the favourite nowadays.
“I’m trying to,” she said in her on-court interview when asked about handling the added pressure. “It’s a tough position. I feel, like, everybody wants to beat me. I’m just happy to be here and play good tennis.”
Vondrousova set up a 3rd-round meeting with No 22 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia, who made the Cleveland final less than a week ago, and defeated Lesia Tsurenko, 6-1 6-3, on Thursday.
The Czech leads their head-to-head 3-1, with the Russian’s last win coming in 2017.
Meanwhile, former US Open finalist Keys, seeded 17, demolished Belgium’s lucky loser Yanina Wickmayer, 6-1 6-2, in the second match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, displaying some of her 2017 ‘Madi Magic’.
The American closed out the win in a quick 54 minutes to reach the 3rd-round in New York, where she will meet Liudmilla Samsonova, the 14th seed from Russia, who defeated German Tamara Korpastch, 6-3 6-3.
Keys was all business in her first meeting with Wickmayer, converting 2 break points in the first set by simply outplaying the Belgian.
The second set proved more competitive as Wickmayer re-energised herself, held her serve and returned some blistering returns, but Keys kept her foot on the gas all the way to the finish line.
Wickmayer, who unfortunately had to retire in the 3rd-round of qualifying here, has made the most of her second chance in the main draw, hanging in with Keys for most of the match.
She earned her one and only break point down 2-3 in the second set, but the American was way too solid all round, which greatly diminished the Belgian’s chances.
Later in the afternoon, Svitolina, the No 26 seed from Ukraine, came from behind to outlast Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 5-7 6-4 6-4, in a high-quality match on Armstrong, firing her 10th ace on match point to end the nearly 3-hour clash, much to the delight of the supportive crowd.
Only having returned to the tour in April following the birth of her daughter with fellow player Gael Monfils, Svitolina says she draws inspiration from her husband, who was playing his 2nd-round match at the same time.
“I tried to get a little motivation from him,” she said in an on-court interview. “I know he is playing out there and I needed to change my head a little bit, because I was not playing my best.
“I had to bring different energy and I was thinking about him a little bit.”
She asked the chair umpire if Monfils was on court yet to distract herself when she was trailing a set down.
Then she did what she does best, used her extraordinary grit to claw her way back into contention and take the win, improving her record to 11-2 at Grand Slams this season, during which the 28-year-old has made the Wimbledon semi-finals and the French Open quarter-finals.
Svitolina stunned World No 1 Iga Swiatek en route to the Last 4 at Wimbledon, and has made the quarter-finals or better in her last two appearances at the US Open, including a semi-final berth in 2019.
She has produced consistent performances, despite the turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and did not shake the hand of her Russian opponent after the match.
Thursday’s encounter was the 6th meeting between the two, and their first since 2020.
In a physical first set, Pavlyuchenkova reigned in her trademark power game in favour of smart baseline consistency, as Svitolina tried to keep points short.
That rally discipline paid off for the 2021 French Open finalist, and, of the 37 rallies that lasted 5 or more shots, Pavlyuchenkova won the bulk of them, taking 21.
She also saved all 5 break points she faced, and earned the only break of the set in the final game to take the early lead.
Svitolina eventually crashed through her defences, taking advantage of a pair of double-faults and back-to-back unforced errors to earn her first break of serve with an artful drop-shot to lead 3-2 in the second set.
As the match wore on, Svitolina successfully shortened the points and took control, and, in the third set, her return pressure helped the Ukrainian to break twice to build a 4-0 lead.
Pavlyuchenkova narrowed the gap to get within a break, and saved 2 match points in the final game, but Svitolina steeled herself to earn the 2-hour and 47-minute win, firing 41 winners to 36 unforced errors, while generating 15 break points to Pavlyuchenkova’s 31 winners to 45 miscues.
Svitolina will face World No 3 Jessica Pegula, who took out Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig, 6-3 6-1, in the early night session.
Elsewhere, Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, was a 6-3 6-2 winner over Jodie Burrage in 74 minutes on Ashe.
Sabalenka now leads all Hologic WTA Tour players with 624 winners amassed so far in the season’s 4 Grand Slam events, 28 of them coming against Burrage.
Asked how she did it, Sabalenka wasn’t sure.
“We have to ask my fitness coach,” she told the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd. “Too much weight lifting maybe?”
Ranked 96, Burrage did not face a break point in her upset of No 38 Anna Blinkova from Russia, but it took Sabalenka all of 7 minutes to conjure up a chance, which she converted for a 2-0 lead, and she slammed down a 106 mph first serve for a backhand winner to break again in the 5th game of the second set.
At the last, the Belarusian finished with 28 winners, balanced by 21 unforced errors.
Sabalenka says she is trying not to think about taking over the World No 1 ranking from Swiatek, which is tantalisingly within reach, and she needs to at least equal the Pole’s result here to do it.
“It’s just a chance, first of all,” Sabalenka said. “It would mean a lot to me. It’s one of the goals and one of the dreams. I’ll do my best to reach this dream.”
In the 3rd-round, Sabalenka will face Clara Burel of France, who eliminated No 25 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-4 6-2.
In other early Thursday results, No 23 seed Qinwen Zheng of China topped Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, 6-2 3-6 6-2; while Lucia Bronzetti from Italy beat Germany’s Eva Lys, 6-3 6-2.