US Open Day 3 | Svitolina survives but Mladenovic falls
There was a lot of catching up to do on Day 3 after rain decimated play on Tuesday at the US Open, but unlike the bad old days when everyone sat around waiting for it to stop, matches continued on Arthur Ashe Stadium, courtesy of its two-year old closing roof.
Thankfully the sun shone on Wednesday and the outside courts got away with a bumper schedule of 87 matches scheduled across 17 courts and 11 of them were interrupted, first-round affairs.
Today was a little bit of a mess in my head and it was very tough to keep the focus. It was a little bit unlucky to stop because I was playing good. It was tough to keep my focus. I'm happy I could win the third set and play really good tennis. I was just trying to fight for every ball. You can't win if you're not mentally strong. Elina Svitolina
Former World No 1 Maria Sharapova, who in her Grand Slam return from a 15-month doping ban upset second-ranked Simona Halep, was set to face Hungary’s 59th-ranked Timea Babos in a later second-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, tested positive for blood booster meldonium in the 2016 Australian Open, her most recent Grand Slam appearance until this week.
She played only one hardcourt tuneup match due to a forearm injury but powered past one of seven contenders for the world number one ranking still in the field.
Another of those was Elina Svitolina, who dropped six of nine tie-breaker points when her match resumed, but survived a third set, breaking for a 4-2 edge and serving out for the victory.
Out on the temporary Louis Armstrong Stadium, Svitolina avoided the early exit in a match that should have been in the bag overnight.
She had been in control of proceedings against Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic before rain intervened on Tuesday, and then struggled for rhythm when play restarted first thing on Wednesday.
She had won the first set, 6-0, after an error-plagued 25 minutes during which both players failed to land more than 48 percent of their first serves.
In the second set, Svitolina led, 5-4, and was serving for the match under a persistent drizzle.
At 30-all, Siniakova ran her to the same corner three times, forcing her to make a series of awkward strokes before finally putting the ball into the net.
Svitolina saved one break point, then netted a forehand at deuce and, on the next point, she came in but smashed her volley to tie the set at 5-5.
Emboldened, Siniakova held serve to pull ahead in the next game, but Svitolina held her serve too, and forced a tiebreak in which the Ukrainian was leading 2-1 when the match was suspended because of rain.
On Wednesday morning, the players returned to Armstrong under clear skies and needed seven minutes to finish the tiebreak.
A rejuvenated Siniakova won the first four points of the day to lead, 5-2, but failed to convert two set points at 6-3 before Svitolina sent a shot into the net to hand the Czech the second set.
“Today was a little bit of a mess in my head and it was very tough to keep the focus,” she told Eurosport.
“It was a little bit unlucky to stop because I was playing good. It was tough to keep my focus. I’m happy I could win the third set and play really good tennis.
“I was just trying to fight for every ball. You can’t win if you’re not mentally strong.”
Svitolina was trailing 2-0 in the third set, but rallied strongly to break back for a 3-2 lead before breaking again to move 4-2 ahead as Siniakova appeared to tighten under pressure.
Trailing 5-2, Siniakova held to reduce the deficit to 5-3 before Svitolina threw in an ace in seeing out the match to 15 to reach the second round, 6-0 6-7(5) 6-3.
Svitolina will face Evgeniya Rodina, the Russian who dispatched Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, 7-6(2) 6-1, but she will need a miracle to move beyond the second round.
22-year-old Svitolina’s best run at a Grand Slam remains reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon this year.
The Ukraine player’s best run at the US Open was reaching the third round in 2015 and 2016, and she will be relieved to avoid joining defending champion Angelique Kerber, second seed Simona Halep and number seven seed Johanna Konta in suffering an early exit at Flushing Meadows.
The 14th seed from France, Kristina Mladenovic, however, was not so fortunate, falling to the tricky Romanian, Monica Niculescu, 6-3 6-2, out on Court 11 in another first round match held overnight.
The Frenchwoman, despite an early break, displayed a submissive performance as she easily surrendered in a match interrupted yesterday at 1-1 in the second.
With her peculiar sliced forehand, the Romanian had broken her opponent twice in a row from 0-2.
Mladenovic, whose tally of her errors increased dramatically, double-faulted and offered up a couple of more unforced errors to allow Niculescu to seal the first set.
At the restart, Niculescu saved a break point thanks to a marvellous drop shot and moved 4-2 leading by a set and a break after a couple of clinical passes to counter Mladenovic’s ineffective volleys.
Completely destabilised, Mladenovic was soon forced to accept her fourth consecutive first round loss.
As for Bouchard, she gifted six of the last seven points in the first set tiebreak with unforced errors and although sh went a break up in the second set, she missed an easy forehand and rapidly fell towards her fifth defeat in a Grand Slam debut match, the second in a row.
“I tried to focus on every single point and stay aggressive,” said Rodina on court after the match. “I think my game worked today.”
In the first career meeting between the two players, Rodina’s clean ball-striking won out on the afternoon, as she struck 16 winners to 18 unforced errors and broke serve a total of five times.
The 28-year-old Russian, one of two mothers in the US Open main draw alongside Germany’s Tatjana Maria, reached the round of 64 for the third straight year.
For Bouchard it was another disappointing loss.
The Canadian has seen her ranking slip to No 76 this season, and she has fallen in the first round of the US Open now in each of the past two years after back-to-back second week showings.
All credit to the organisers, though, who are being sued by Bouchard after she suffered a concussion following a post-match fall in the locker room area at the 2015 US Open, that they scheduled her on Ashe Stadium when they could easily have sent her out to the boonies somewhere.
The former top 10 player has struggled to find any consistent form since but clearly remains in the spotlight.
Meanwhile, the World No 1 Karolina Pliskova now knows the name of her next opponent – The American Nicole Gibbs, injured for much of 2017, who was able to win her first Grand Slam match since the Australian Open with a strange scoreline of 6-0 1-6 6-1 against Veronica Cepede-Royg from Paraguay.
The Czech leads 2-1 in their head to heads, with Gibbs winning their first meeting in Rancho Santa Fe six years ago.
Other first round winners on Day 3 included Kaia Kanepi from Estonia, who beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, 0-6 6-4 6-2, and America’s Jennifer Brady, who took out Andrea Petkovic from Germany, 6-4 3-6 6-1.