Simona Halep, among many others, is impressed with the potential fourth-round survivors at this spirited US Open.
“Actually last night at the dinner we were watching on the schedule, and I was, like, every match is a semifinal,” Halep told reporters Friday. “Yeah, the level is super high, and now you cannot expect some players to win. So everyone can win the match.
“I gave up of thinking who is going to be in the semis and finals. … Now, I have no idea. Everybody is super strong. The matches are great, in my opinion, for everybody.”
Garbiñe Muguruza couldn’t agree more. She faced (and defeated) fellow two-time Grand Slam singles champion Victoria Azarenka – in a third-round match.
“I feel like there is so many good players that maybe your seeding, it doesn’t really matter because you are a Grand Slam champion,” Muguruza said. “Every match is very difficult. Yeah, it’s a Grand Slam.”
Through six days, 11 of the top 15 seeds were still alive. The notable exceptions: No.1 Ashleigh Barty, who fell in a dramatic third-set tiebreak against Shelby Rogers on Saturday, and No.3 Naomi Osaka, who lost Friday night against unseeded 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Moreover, four current or former No. 1s survived to reach the weekend: Angelique Kerber, Muguruza, Halep and Karolina Pliskova. As well as three multiple-major winners – Halep, Muguruza, Kerber.
Factor in one-time major champions Barbora Krejcikova, Bianca Andreescu and Iga Swiatek and there were six major champions still in this year’s draw.
Here are the headlines for Sunday’s four Round of 16 matches from the bottom half of the draw:
--Halep and Elina Svitolina, two consistently excellent players on tour for a number of years, meet for the 10th time.
--Krejcikova versus Muguruza, the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, French Open champions both, 2021 and 2016, respectively.
--No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, who has dropped only 10 games in her past four sets, takes on No. 15 Elise Mertens.
--Kerber, the three-time major champion, faces Fernandez following her massive upset.
On to the matchups:
No.5 Elina Svitolina vs. No.12 Simona Halep
So, what comes to mind when Svitolina thinks of her career battles against Halep?
“Many matches,” Svitolina said. “I had some tough loses against her and some good wins, as well. It’s going to be another big battle and great match.”
Svitolina, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over No.25 Daria Kasatkina, has won eight matches in a row going back to her title a week ago in Chicago.
Halep defeated No.19 Elena Rybakina 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 in a match that required 2 hours, 22 minutes. Halep’s tightly wrapped right thigh seemed to hold up.
Their head-to-head reads like a Russian novel, full of intrigue, depth of character(s) and surprising twists. Halep won the first two encounters (the first eight years ago in Sofia), but Svitolina won four straight. Halep took the next two before Svitolina won their last meeting in the 2019 WTA Finals.
Halep, who reached the semifinals here six years ago, trailed Rybakina 5-3 in the first set and 6-2 in the tiebreak, but saved four set points to take the critical opening frame.
“It was a great victory and great day for me, for my confidence and also for my game,” Halep said afterward. “It’s nice to be back in the second week of the US Open after five years, because I said three years on court and my brother [Nicolae] wrote me that it’s five years, not three years. I correct it now.
“At the beginning of the match, actually before the match, I was super stressed, and I told [coach] Darren [Cahill] that my forehand is lost. So I cannot feel it anymore. I had emotions. I was nervous. And I was crazy a little bit on court, as well, the frustrations got me a little bit. But I fought, and this victory gives me a lot of confidence that my game is coming back.”
Head-to-head: 5-4, Svitolina.
No.8 Barbora Krejcikova vs. No.9 Garbiñe Muguruza
Just like they drew it up. This one should be good.
In a Friday battle of multi-major winners, Muguruza closed out No.18 Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Krejcikova, 25, handled lucky loser Kamilla Rakhimova 6-4, 6-2.
Krejcikova, despite having eight women ahead of her in the rankings, sits at No.2 in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, behind Barty.
This year, Barty owns five titles and is 42-7 – a plus-35 victory net. Krejcikova, with three titles, is a tidy 42-12 (plus-30), ahead of No.2 Aryna Sabalenka (plus-27) and Ons Jabeur (plus-26).
Two weeks ago, Barty and Krejcikova met in Cincinnati with Krejcikova prevailing in three sets
Muguruza, meanwhile, is 34-13, with one title – in Dubai, where she beat Krejcikova. Like everyone else, Muguruza has been surprised at Krejcikova’s sudden success.
“Yeah, it’s quite shocking, no, how much it happened for her in the last year,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. “I know her game. She has way more confidence now after winning a slam. I can feel it in her shots.
“Looking forward. It’s a good Round of 16. It’s one of the hottest players right now, so good. That’s the players I want to face.”
While Krejcikova has won all six of the sets she’s played, Muguruza has been extended to three sets twice.
“I feel when you start the tournament with tough matches and you go through them and you get the wins, that gives you this little confidence,” she said. “Every round it’s getting more complicated so you need that extra confidence that every win gives you. Yeah, I think I am in a good situation to go to second week.”
Head-to-head: 1-1. Muguruza took a 7-6 (6), 6-3 decision in the Dubai final earlier this year, while Krejcikova returned the favor in the Round of 16 at Cincinnati, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2. Note: Muguruza won a tiebreaker in both matches.
No.16 Angelique Kerber vs. Leylah Fernandez
Osaka – a four-time major champion – had won 16 consecutive Grand Slam matches. Fernandez was trying to reach her first fourth round at a major. Did anyone – other than Leylah and her father and coach Jorge – fancy her chances?
And yet, the 18-year-old Canadian came back to beat an unsettled Osaka in three sets. Likewise, Kerber rallied to beat unseeded Sloane Stephens 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.
Kerber, at 33, has a vast edge in experience – but, of course, so did Osaka.
Fernandez’s ambitious goal this year is to reach the Top 10. She’s No.73 right now, and climbing. Victories like the one over Osaka are the way to get there quickly.
“It gives me a lot of confidence.” Fernandez said. “It shows that my game is improving and it is there in the top. I was able to beat a very great, amazing player. Naomi is a great person, a great player. I’m just happy today I was able to show that my tennis game and all my hard work is paying off.”
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 15 Elise Mertens
Before this year’s Wimbledon, Sabalenka had played in 14 Grand Slam events – and never advanced past the fourth round. This year, she made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Karolina Pliskova. Did achieving that milestone ease her mind?
“It’s never easy, you know,” Sabalenka said after her second-round match. “It’s all about put my focus on the right place. I’m trying to focus on my game, what I should do to win this match, for example, or just try to stay in the moment.”
Sabalenka beat No.26 Danielle Collins 6-3, 6-3 – in 90 minutes, while Mertens defeated Jabeur 6-3, 7-5.
Mertens was having a so-so hardcourt summer, losing four of seven matches coming in. She was forced to save six match points in her opening match against Rebecca Peterson but looked sharp against Jabeur, converting six of eight break opportunities.
Mertens has advanced to the quarterfinals here the past two years.
Head-to-head: 5-2, Sabalenka, most recently a 6-1, 4-0 victory when Mertens retired in the Madrid quarterfinals.