Win or lose, Ashleigh Barty will exit the US Open as the WTA’s No.1 player for the 86th consecutive week and 92nd overall. Hard to believe, but the 25-year-old Australian is closing in on Lindsay Davenport (98) and Justine Henin (117) on the all-time list.
Winning the US Open would put her in a good position to catch those marquee players, but it would also change the chemistry at the top of women’s tennis. It’s been five years since a woman finished the year with two Grand Slam titles, going back to Angelique Kerber and her torrid 2016 season. After winning at Wimbledon, Barty could join Kerber with three major singles crowns – and separate herself from those current players with two: Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka.
For this to happen, Barty will have to change her personal history at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. For in five previous appearances there, Barty has yet to get past the fourth round.
On Tuesday, she got off to a good start, sending off veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 7-6 (7) for her 41st victory of the year. But after a sizzling first set, Barty allowed Zvonareva – a US Open finalist in 2010 – back into the match. Ultimately, Barty pulled off the win in a second-set tiebreaker and finished with 11 aces, adding to her WTA-leading total of 308.
Barty has won five titles this year, despite a continuous road trip that is already into its sixth month. How has she achieved that high-level consistency?
“Me, it’s keeping it simple,” she said before the tournament. “It’s enjoying my tennis, going out there and playing with freedom. It’s being really clear with tactically how I want to play.
“Then it just comes down to execution. Some days I'm going to be able to execute better than others. Some days I’m going to have to go into the toolbox a little bit, find different things, rely on different things in my game. I think knowing that I have the confidence to go out there and trust myself is massive.”
Her second-round opponent Thursday is Clara Tauson, an 18-year-old from Denmark, who won took a clean 7-5, 6-0 match against Clara Burel.
Tauson, one of five teenagers into the second round, is enjoying a breakout season that included her first WTA title, in Lyon, France. She defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova, Camila Giorgi, Paula Badosa and, in the final, Viktorija Golubic back in March. A week before the US Open, she reached the final of the Chicago 125 event, beating Emma Raducanu in the final. As a result, Tauson’s ranking jumped 23 spots, to No.78.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of her,” Barty told reporters. “I think that’s a little bit of homework for [coach Craig Tyzzer] and I to go to the drawing board and see what she can offer. Yeah, we have to have a look and go in with a clear game plan and then try and execute for us.
“I like all the challenges, all different challenges that come with tennis. I think a new one, a fresh one is exciting. We go into it and hopefully we’re clear as a bell, and we can just go out and there and try and execute.
Barty and Tauson have never played.
Here are some more notable second-round matches from a loaded Thursday card:
No.6 Bianca Andreescu vs. Lauren Davis
In her first US Open match since winning the title two years earlier, Andreescu found herself trailing Golubic 5-3 in the first set. The 21-year-old Canadian won the next four games.
With score tied 2-all in the second, Andreescu called for the trainer – and her supporters had to cringe at the thought of another injury. Ultimately, after battling an upset stomach, Andreescu prevailed – 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in 2 hours, 49 minutes – and there were tears in her eyes.
Andreescu has never lost a match at the US Open (8-0). But can she put together back-to-back wins for the first time since May? That opportunity comes Thursday against Davis, who handled qualifier Viktoriya Tomova 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Davis, a 27-year-old from the United States, is ranked No.98.
The highlight of Andreescu’s difficult 2021 season came in Miami, where she reached the final but was forced to retire. Then, after reaching the quarterfinals in Strasbourg (losing to Sorana Cirstea), she struggled. Andreescu lost her first match at Roland Garros, Berlin, Wimbledon and Cincinnati, registering only two victories in a span of three months.
“It’s definitely emotional,” Andreescu said in her on-court interview. “I didn’t play here last year and I honestly didn’t play anything in 2020. I’ve been struggling a lot this past year, so for me I’m just thinking about all those struggles and how it’s worth it.
“Winning on this court again is just incredible.”
No.4 Karolina Pliskova vs. Amanda Anisimova
Pliskova continued her summer tear, defeating US wildcard Catherine McNally, 6-3, 6-4. The 29-year-old from the Czech Republic reached the Wimbledon and Montreal finals and the semifinals in Cincinnati. She’s won 16 of her 20 previous matches.
Anisimova celebrated her 20th birthday with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Zarina Diyas
Head-to-head: 3-0, Pliskova. She won the most recent match three weeks ago in the fourth round at Montreal, 6-1, 7-6 (8).
No.11 Belinda Bencic vs. Martina Trevisan
The last time she was here, Benic reached the semifinal, falling to eventual champion Andreescu in two tight sets. Earlier this summer, the 24-year-old Swiss player took home singles gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m still on cloud nine, I would say,” Bencic said after her 6-4, 6-4 first-round win over Arantxa Rus. “I would still say I’m on earth, you know. I realize everything. Of course I’m focusing on this tournament and just on playing well. But I feel like I want to be on cloud nine all the time.
“My first Olympics, and just how everything went with winning the gold, for me it’s forever and for me it’s probably going to be the biggest achievement I will ever have.”
Meanwhile, the No. 106-ranked Trevisan defeated American wildcard Coco Vandeweghe 6-1, 7-5.
Zhang Shuai vs. [Q] Emma Raducanu
Brace yourself for another wave of Raducanumania.
As an 18-year-old wildcard at Wimbledon, she was a sensation, reaching the fourth round in her first senior Grand Slam event. The No.338 won eight straight games against Cirstea to get there. Even after withdrawing from that match against Ajla Tomljanovic with a bout of dizziness, she has been a must-see event.
Raducanu, now ranked No.150, got to the final of the Chicago 125 a week ago, falling to fellow teenager Tauson. And then she won three qualifying matches to reach the US Open’s main draw. Tuesday, she got past lucky loser Stefanie Voegele 6-2, 6-3.
The No.49-ranked Zhang was a 6-3, 6-4 winner over American wildcard Hailey Baptiste.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Zhang, a 6-3, 6-2 win in San Jose earlier this summer.
No.7 Iga Swiatek vs. Fiona Ferro
Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, is now 10-1 in Grand Slam first-round matches after defeating qualifier Jamie Loeb 6-3, 6-4. Swiatek, at 20, is the youngest of 12 Grand Slam champions in the draw.
Ferro defeated Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-4.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Swiatek (third round of the 2021 Australian Open).
No.10 Petra Kvitova vs. [Q] Kristyna Pliskova
An all-Czech second-round match.
Kvitova wasted no time in her opening match, defeating Polona Hercog, 6-1, 6-2 in 61 minutes. On two occasions (2015, 2017), Kvitova has reached the quarterfinals at the US Open.
Pliskova, the twin sister of Karolina Pliskova, is ranked No.115; she surprised Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-3.
Head-to-head: 1-1, with Kvitova winning at 2017 Beijing and Pliskova prevailing at 2018 Charleston.
No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Pavlyuchenkova, a French Open finalist this year, defeated No. 35-ranked Alison Riske 6-4, 6-2. Schmiedlova defeated American wildcard Ashlyn Krueger 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Pavlyuchenkova (2015 Monterrey).
No. 23 Jessica Pegula vs. Misaki Doi
Pegula, seeded for the first time ever in her home major, dispatched Anastasia Potapova 6-2, 6-2 for her 30th match-win of 2021. The 27-year-old American had her best Grand Slam result earlier this year, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Later, Doi defeated Storm Sanders 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Head-to-head: 4-1, Pegula, including a qualifier for this year’s event in Doha.
No.24 Paula Badosa vs. Varvara Gracheva
Badosa handled Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-3. Later, Gracheva was a 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 winner over qualifier Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
Head-to-head: 1-1, with Badosa winning their last match, at the Volvo Car Open, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. Gracheva took their first meeting in the first round of last fall’s US Open.