Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova won their second round matches at the US Open.
Victoria Azarenka put fellow Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka firmly in her place with an 6-1, 6-3 victory in the second round of the US Open on Thursday, further cementing her status as a dangerous floater in the women's draw.
The unseeded former world number one whipped through the contest against fifth seed Sabalenka on the Louis Armstrong Stadium court in little more than an hour to set up a third-round date with Sachia Vickery or Iga Swiatek.
"Today was really solid," the 31-year-old twice Australian Open champion said. "I felt like I stepped on the court and I was really making her earn every single point that we played. That was my goal to be really, really strong.
"I would really like to continue in that way. I got to a lot of balls and ... I'm so happy that I stayed really strong in the end."
Sabalenka won the first meeting between the Fed Cup team mates in the first round of the last US Open but this year Azarenka is on a roll after winning the title at last week's Western & Southern Open, albeit after a walkover in the final.
"I think (last year) was a little different circumstances for me," she said.
"I have done a lot of good work. I'm feeling good, I'm feeling happy. I'm still eager to kind of perfect everything, which I know I'll never get to, but we'll try."
Azarenka's career has been a rollercoaster ride since she since she returned to the tour in 2017 after taking time off to have her son, Leo.
She is one of a record nine women players with children in the singles draw at Flushing Meadows but bristled at the thought that she would be defined purely by her motherhood.
"Identifying myself or other players just as mothers, I think that's not the only thing that we are," she said.
"We are also tennis players. We are also women who have dreams and goals and passions."
Azarenka hoped the match between her country's top two players had provided positive distraction to her compatriots after weeks of mass protests and strikes in the former Soviet republic.
"I feel like there is a lot of things going on in the world, and obviously what's happening in Belarus is very dear to my heart," she said.
"I feel like sport has always been a celebration in our country. It's always been really appreciated. People really love sport. I hope they are watching.
"Having two Belarusian women playing on the biggest stages, I think it's really important."
Pironkova comeback continues with win over Muguruza
Tsvetana Pironkova, playing in her first event since 2017, claimed a shock upset at the US Open on Thursday by dispatching double Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza 7-5, 6-3 to move into the third round.
After three years away from the WTA Tour following the birth of her son Alexander, the unranked Bulgarian had 10th-seeded Muguruza smashing her racket and mumbling in frustration as the Spaniard's US Open jinx continued to haunt her.
"Coming from three years of absence on the tour, you always have your doubts," Pironkova said. "Right now my results actually make me really happy because it shows that I did the right things preparing for this comeback.
"At this point for me the toughest part is the physical condition. I haven't had a chance to play another tournament before this one. Having a few consecutive matches is really a big challenge for me," added the 32-year-old.
The tournament has been a stumbling block for the French Open and Wimbledon champion, who this year nearly added to her collection of major trophies when she reached the final in Australia.
In stark contrast to her success at the other slams, Muguruza has struggled to make an impact on the New York hardcourts.
She had made it past the second round once in seven previous visits to Flushing Meadows and saw her bid end there again.
Muguruza had looked in complete control serving at 5-4 in the opener, but the Spaniard then suddenly started to unravel. She lost the next three games, being broken twice including in the last game to hand Pironkova the opening set.
Muguruza furiously smashed her racket onto the court walking to the changeover and was left holding only the handle.
While the Spaniard struggled to regain her composure Pironkova, whose last tournament was the 2017 Wimbledon won by Muguruza, showed the poise of a veteran who had been playing every week.
The Bulgarian secured the decisive break to go up 5-3 in the second set then held serve against the dejected Muguruza to cap a startling victory.
"I don't know how to really explain it," said Pironkova. "It's just great to be playing without that extra pressure that I had on my myself before.
"Before it was like almost a life-and-death situation for me to win a match. Right now it's not really like that.
"It's before all just enjoyment to be on the court."