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US Open: Serena survives; Thiem, Azarenka roll into round of 16

Last updated on: September 06, 2020 10:25 IST
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IMAGES from Day 6 of the matches played at the US Open at Flushing Meadows on Saturday.  

Serena Williams

IMAGE: Serena Williams returns a shot during her third round match against Sloane Stephens. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

Serena Williams survived a third-round scare at the US Open to topple 2017 champion Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 and keep alive her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

A sure-footed Stephens pounced early as third seed Williams struggled with her first serve and committed 13 unforced errors in the first set, claiming an early break for a 2-1 lead.

The 26th seed kept Williams on the run as she saved two break points, with the 38-year-old struggling to find her rhythm.

 

But the momentum dramatically shifted in Williams’ favour in the second set. The third seed opened a 4-2 lead as she cleaned up her game and kept psyching herself up in the absence of the legions of fans who usually flock to Flushing Meadows.

The stands are empty this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Williams, who got just half of her first serves in during the first set, appeared increasingly confident as the match went on, dropping just one first-serve point in the third set as the contest slipped through Stephens' fingers.

Williams next faces Greek Maria Sakkari, who beat her in the third round of the Western & Southern Open just 10 days ago.

"It was intense, I have to say," Williams, chasing a seventh title at the New York major, said in an on-court interview. "It always brings out the best in my fitness when I play Sloane."

She sent down a dozen aces including one on her second serve.

"My thing is just try to stay calm and be more serene," Williams, a notorious perfectionist, told reporters. "I just knew it was important for me just to keep trying, just to keep going."

Williams played the match in front of her daughter, three-year-old Olympia, and said she hoped "that she saw her momma fighting."

"I don’t think she was paying attention, between you and me," she added. "She may have been playing with some princesses upstairs."

Dominic Thiem sees off Marin Cilic

Dominic Thiem

IMAGE: Dominic Thiem returns a volley during his third round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Austrian second seed Dominic Thiem saw a fightback from 2014 champion Marin Cilic to go through to the round of 16 of the US Open. Thiem was dominant in the first two sets before Cilic finally found his bearings at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Thiem hit 18 winners, committed just four unforced errors and broke serve four times on seven opportunities in the first two sets.

Cilic redoubled his efforts in the third set and managed to put a dent in Thiem's armour. He broke for 4-2 and later saved two break points while serving at 5-3 to force a fourth set.

The Croatian threatened to build his momentum in the fourth but Thiem saved three break points to hold for 3-2 before breaking critically for 4-2 in the next game.

Thiem now faces 20-year-old Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime in his last 16 match.

Azarenka solves Swiatek test

Victoria Azarenka

IMAGE: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus serves. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka is back into the second week at the US Open for the first time since 2015 after unraveling the rising Iga Swiatek in straight sets.

Azarenka’s dominant return to form continued on Saturday evening with a commanding display against Swiatek on Louis Armstrong Stadium, raining down 25 winners and four winners to win 6-4, 6-2 after just over an hour and a half.

Coming into the New York bubble a few weeks ago, Azarenka was flying under the radar as she was searching for her first match win in a year. Everything quickly changed as Azarenka finally got going at the Western & Southern Open, finishing the week with a Premier 5 title.

Azarenka kept the momentum going at the US Open, dropping just three games in her opening match against Barbara Haas, and claiming sweet revenge over fellow Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, the No.5 seed, with a statement 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Kenin conquers Jabeur to reach fourth round

Sofia Kenin

IMAGE: Sofia Kenin returns a volley during her third round match against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin is through to the fourth round of the US Open for the first time after a straight sets win over the tricky Ons Jabeur on Saturday night.

No 2 seed Kenin had to weather a barrage of 35 winners coming from the Tunisian’s racquet, but she stayed solid to break Jabeur’s serve three times and fire 13 winners of her own, fighting her way to a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory.

Medvedev dismantles third-round opponent Wolf

Russia's Daniil Medvedev reacts after winning a point during his third round match against USA's JJ Wolf

IMAGE: Russia's Daniil Medvedev reacts after winning a point during his third round match against USA's JJ Wolf. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

Russian Daniil Medvedev rolled through the US Open third round by demolishing American JJ Wolf 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday. The third seed seized the early momentum, breaking Wolf’s serve for a 3-2 lead in the first set in which he committed just two unforced errors in a show of near-flawless play.

 

The Russian, runner-up at Flushing Meadows last year, won the first break point in the second set after a pair of unforced errors from his opponent, and he appeared totally in control as he fired off eight aces, including one to close out the set. Wolf matched the hard-hitting Russian's power but a flurry of unforced errors -- 41 in the match compared to 10 from Medvedev -- proved his undoing.

Back-to-back double faults in the first game of the third set saw a frustrated Wolf kick a tennis ball into the empty stands inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, with spectators barred from the facility due to the coronavirus pandemic. Medvedev closed out the campaign with four straight points, praising his opponent in an on-court interview after the match.

"I’m sure he’s going to be climbing up the rankings," Medvedev said of his Wolf.

"I did everything I could for it to be tough (for him)."

He next faces either Marton Fucsovics of Hungary or Frances Tiafoe of the United States in the fourth round.

Sakkari steamrolls Anisimova to advance

Greece's Maria Sakkari serves during her third round match against American Amanda Anisimova

IMAGE: Greece's Maria Sakkari serves during her third round match against American Amanda Anisimova. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

Greece’s Maria Sakkari needed just 55 minutes to go past error-prone American teen Amanda Anisimova 6-3, 6-1 and book her spot in the fourth round at her second consecutive Grand Slam.

The 22nd-seeded Anisimova, who turned 19 on Monday, made 28 unforced errors and recorded just four winners. Sakkari made eight errors.

“It’s so tough, what happened,” Sakkari said after the match, of her compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas’s surprise third-round upset on Day 5.

“We can all feel the way Stefanos is feeling right now. This win was to get Greeks back to having a smile and being happy again.”

Sakkari will play Serena Williams next.

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