NEW YORK, NY, USA - Showing off well-balanced variety and a perfect blend of offence and defence, No.8 seed Petra Martic moved past Kateryna Bondarenko 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 21 minutes to reach the third round of the US Open for the second year in a row.

The Croat, already a semifinalist in Palermo a month ago in the first week of the Tour's resumption, had lost her first two matches against mother-of-two Bondarenko back in 2014 and 2015. But since returning from a plethora of injuries in 2017, Martic's career has surged - with last year bringing her a first title, Grand Slam quarterfinal, Premier final and Top 20 debut - and in that time she has now levelled her head-to-head against the Ukrainian. Today, she found a wide-ranging series of 29 winners to 25 winners, as well as holding Bondarenko at bay with supreme serving, tallying eight aces and winning 74% of her first serve points.

"I raised my level [from the first round]," said Martic afterwards. "I played more aggressive from the first ball - I just knew what to expect so it was more comfortable for me to be out there. Kateryna is a tough one, she stands so close to the baseline - it's not very usual, so the ball comes back really fast. I think I adjusted well and I'm pretty happy with this performance.

This was despite Martic admitting that her focus is still not where she ideally wants it following the six-month pause. "Even the match prep, it's still not automatic," she laughed. "You still need to think of things, like forgetting tape - that routine is lost, it's unbelievable... I'm still trying to get that rhythm, but I'm enjoying it and I believe that with a couple more it will come.

As for being able to summon up the ability to battle in a crowdless US Open, Martic stated that she was able to find that within herself. "If I play a match, I'm all in," she declared. "My heart is in. When I fight from the first to the last point then you're going to see fire, you're going to see emotions out there, and I'm going to bring it all."

That was certainly evident in a seven-deuce marathon on the Bondarenko serve would set the tone for the first set, which was characterized by lengthy tussles: five of its games would go to deuce. Two of those were won by Martic, who broke the former World No.29 in that opening epic and fended off three break points to hold for 5-1: the 29-year-old was adept at mixing up her returns, upping the ante effectively on big points, and enjoyed her usual success with a series of dropshots that audibly frustrated her opponent.

Bondarenko, who returned from her second maternity leave last September and is one of six mothers to have reached the second round of this year's US Open, displayed tenacious battling qualities, winning all three of her games in the first set via deuce. Martic would miss her first opportunity for the double break in the third game when she sent a putaway wide, and Bondarenko would get on the board by chasing down a dropshot for one of the only times today. The World No.349 also clung valiantly on to the set at its close, saving two set points down 1-5 with clutch serving and breaking Martic on her fourth opportunity with a brilliantly angled forehand pass to reduce the deficit to 3-5.

But the key to the set had been the pair of consecutive games midway through which Martic had rattled off for the loss of only one point, a passage of play in which she had rained down aces to live up to her status and build the 5-1 lead. That had meant that, ultimately, the gulf was too much for Bondarenko to make up: Martic broke for the third time for the set, claiming her fourth set point as Bondarenko sent a backhand long.

With the exception of serving for the opening act, the Martic serve would be one of the most reliable weapons of the match. Last year's Istanbul champion settled into an even more impregnable groove on it in the second set, during which she conceded three points when stepping up to the line in her first four service games - including a hold for 4-3 which she started with three consecutive aces.

Bondarenko would stick with her this time, though. One of only two players in the second eighth of the draw, alongside Kristina Mladenovic, to have previously reached a US Open quarterfinal - Bondarenko had become the first Ukrainian woman to make that stage of a major in 2009 - the 34-year-old fought off two break points in the fourth game to keep matters close. At 4-4, Bondarenko - starting with a phenomenal pass at full stretch - even held a break point, only for Martic to find an efficient one-two punch.


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A pair of service winners got the Zhengzhou finalist out of trouble and ahead 5-4, at which point she pounced as the Bondarenko backhand faltered. Hammering a backhand winner of her own, Martic reached triple match point, and took the third as Bondarenko sent a forehand long.

Next up for Martic will be World No.102 and Grand Slam debutante Varvara Gracheva, who pulled off a remarkable comeback to upset No.30 seed Kristina Mladenovic. The 20-year-old Russian had fallen behind 1-6, 1-5, but roared back to win 13 of the next 14 games for a 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-0 victory, including saving four match points serving at 2-5 in the second set. That will be a rematch of their Prague opener a month ago, which Martic took 7-6(2), 6-3 after a tight battle.