With a win over Danielle Collins, No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka sealed her spot in the round of 16 at the US Open on Friday, where she will take on her friend and former doubles partner Elise Mertens, while Garbiñe Muguruza prevailed over Victoria Azarenka and will meet Barbora Krejcikova.
I’m happy because it was a very tough match. I was facing Victoria, she's had so much success in this tournament. I feel like she was comfortable in this court, in these conditions. I was very pumped for the match. It’s actually my first Arthur Ashe win after almost 10 years. Garbiñe Muguruza
Sabalenka dispatched Collins, the San José champion, 6-3 6-3, after an hour 29 minutes, the match finishing just after 1am on Louise Armstrong Stadium.
The Belarusian showed no sign of any on-going issues with the injury she suffered to her hand during a nasty fall on Wednesday, and was on song from the get-go, firing 34 winners to just 13 unforced errors to score her 41st win of the season, while Collins struck 24 winners to 16 unforced errors.
Ultimately, the American could not consistently cope with Sabalenka’s awesome power.
Unbroken in the match, Sabalenka, who saved the 3 break points she faced in the first set, lines up to face Mertens for a spot in her first US Open quarter-final.
Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 5-2 and has won the last 4 meetings against the Belgian.
Mertens, the 15th seed, got past Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, playing a disciplined, clean match to defeat the 20th seed, 6-3 7-5, and advancing to her 4th consecutive round of 16 in New York.
The Belgian hit just 6 unforced errors off the ground for the match to unwind a misfiring Jabeur in 1 hour 28 minutes.
The match of the day was the hard-fought battle between 2-time Grand Slam champions and former World No 1s, Spain’s Muguruza, the 9th seed and Azarenka of Belarus, the 18th seed.
In the first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, it took Muguruza 2 hours 14 minutes to get past the Belarusian, 6-4 3-6 6-2, ending the run of last year’s US Open finalist, and edging ahead in their career head-to-head by 3 wins to 2.
Muguruza, a Grand Slam winner at the French Open and Wimbledon, has never enjoyed much success in New York, exiting in either the first or second round in 7 of her previous 8 visits, while Azarenka has made deep runs at Flushing Meadows.
“I’m happy because it was a very tough match,” the Spaniard said later. “I was facing Victoria, she’s had so much success in this tournament.
“I feel like she was comfortable in this court, in these conditions. I was very pumped for the match.
“It’s actually my first Arthur Ashe win after almost 10 years.”
In fact it was Spaniard was the one who looked the more at ease on a sunny Ashe Stadium as she prodded Azarenka to slowly unravel.
The match between the two 6-foot (1.82 metres) right-handers was as even as their statistics and profiles suggested and although Muguruza fell behind an early break in the first set, she quickly righted the ship to get back on serve.
With Azarenka ahead 4-3, Muguruza used exceptional hitting to win 11 straight points to reach triple set point and took the one-set lead with an ace.
“I started very well, got that first set,” she said. “Then I feel like in the second set, lost my momentum a little bit. She also came up with great shots.
“In the third set I managed just to be there again and go for the match a little bit. When you face these types of opponents you cannot wait, you have to go to get the win. I felt I did it.”
Azarenka gritted through stunning rallies to sweep to a 4-0 lead in the second set and, at 5-2, two drop-shot winners helped her reach triple set point, and she converted on the third with an error-forcing forehand.
Muguruza managed to regain the momentum in the decider after saving 2 break points at 1-1 with stunning backhands, and then using her depth and power to draw errors from Azarenka, winning the final 4 games of the match to advance.
“This year I just prepared well and say, ‘Hey, at some point it’s going to change, this might be the year’,” said Muguruza. “I feel also having went through those couple of first tough matches gave me also the feeling that I can do well here.
“I think going through the first rounds always gives you that confidence. In the previous years I didn’t manage to go through those opening rounds.”
The Spaniard struck 34 winners to Azarenka’s 23, and she had 5 fewer unforced errors than the Belarusian, who coughed up 6 double-faults to Muguruza’s 4, including one on match point.
Muguruza lines up a rematch against Krejcikova in the 4th round, the No 8 seed from the Czech Republic and the reigning Roland Garros champion, who defeated Russian lucky loser Kamilla Rakhimova, 6-4 6-2.
“I know her game,” said Muguruza. “She has way more confidence now after winning a slam. I can feel it in her shots.
“It’s a good round of 16. It’s one of the hottest players right now, so good. That’s the players I want to face.”
Krejcikova is making her US Open debut in singles, having lost in qualifying 5 times between 2014 and 2019, but she is an accomplished doubles player, who has been ranked World No 1 and won 3 doubles and 3 mixed Grand Slam titles.
This year the Czech has made her mark by winning both the singles and doubles titles at the French Open, as well the trophies in Strasbourg and Prague, and backing up her surprise Paris run with a 4th-round showing at Wimbledon.
She has now reached the second week of her second major in a row with an emphatic win over Rakhimova in an hour and 12 minutes on the Grandstand court.
Rakhimova, who turned 20 last week, lost in the final round of qualifying and got into the main draw as a lucky loser when Jelena Ostapenko withdrew from the tournament due to injury.
The Russian has made the most of her opportunity with a win over Kristina Mladenovic from France before upsetting compatriot Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 32nd seed, to play a Top 20 opponent for the first time.
In so doing, she became just the 4th lucky loser to make the 3rd round in the Open Era at the US Open.
Against Krejcikova she gave another spirited account of herself, going toe-to-toe with the Czech through most of the first set, and showcasing her fine serve, clever drop-shots and lots of hustle.
At 4-4, however, the Russian World No 134’s inexperience surfaced and, having not faced a break point before then, she coughed up 4 of her 25 total unforced errors to drop her serve, and Krejcikova made no mistake in serving it out.
In the second, Rakhimova began to over-press as she tried to get back into the match, but ended up falling away as Krejcikova played calm and steady for the win.
The Czech can hardly believe her progress, saying after she defeated Christina McHale in the previous round: “It’s amazing. I mean … I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it’s happening.
“I was actually expecting that I was not going to do well after Paris. I was preparing myself mentally.
“It was a huge two weeks for me. I felt there were a lot of tough situations I had to go through. After that, I thought I just need to rest. I just felt so exhausted. I played many matches, obviously.”
This time last year, the Czech had yet to crack the Top 100 in singles and now is the World No 9, sitting at No 2 on the Porsche Race Leaderboard.
“A year ago I wasn’t dreaming of this,” she said. “I didn’t believe I could be on the stage or that I could ever play the main draw here.”
On Wednesday, Krejcikova’s match was moved to Louis Armstrong Stadium to finish when the rain came and she marvelled at her first foray on the show court as a singles player.
“I hope it’s obvious from me, and my attitude, that when I step on court I really enjoy it, and that I have a lot of fun out there,” she added. “I just want to perform the best tennis and every time I step on court, improve as a player.
“For me, being here, having this chance, it’s unbelievable. It’s actually unbelievable. I never expected that I could be this high and play on this stage.”
A win against Muguruza would put Krejcikova into the US Open quarter-finals.