NEW YORK – Marketa Vondrousova achieved a longtime dream this summer at the All England Club, winning her first major title.
When she arrived in New York, feeling the weight of being the Grand Slam Club’s newest member, Vondrousova honestly wasn’t expecting much.
What’s the most difficult thing about being the Wimbledon champion?
“I feel like it’s the pressure maybe,” Vondrousova said last week. “It’s very tough to meet the expectations after the finals and everything. The best thing, I feel like [is the] the fans. It’s really nice to see the kids and everybody just wants to meet you.”
And beat you.
And yet, the 24-year-old from the Czech Republic is the one doing the beating, threading her way through this US Open draw to post her best result in New York. She dropped the first set to Peyton Stearns on Monday, but came back to win 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2.
It was her 11th straight win in a major.
She’s one of four big-time, seeded players to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Let’s break down these tantalizing, first-encounter matchups:
No.9 Marketa Vondrousova vs. No.17 Madison Keys
This should be a fun one, for it’s the first time they’ve played. Keys suggested she’ll be practicing Tuesday against a left-hander to simulate the funky spin Vondrousova gets on her serves.
While Vondrousova was reeling in Stearns, Keys was playing a spectacular match against top-ranked American Jessica Pegula. The final count was 6-1, 6-3 and it was over in a dizzying 61 minutes.
Keys, 28, has the vast edge in experience. This is her 10th major quarterfinal -- her second in a row -- and she was a finalist here in 2017 and a semifinalist one year later. She’s won three of her four matches in straight sets, dropping just one to No.14 seed Liudmila Samsonova. She’s also on the brink of a return to the Top 10 for the first time in six years.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that previously Vondrousova has reached the final every time she’s made a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal. It happened at Roland Garros in 2019 and again at Wimbledon.
“To be completely honest,” Keys told reporters, “I didn’t watch a ton of the Wimbledon final, but she’s a great player. I think her career has only not been as good as it could be just because of injuries and things like that. Her level is 100 percent.
“Seeing that she’s been able to now win a Grand Slam and be in the quarterfinals here, I think she has a unique style because I think she balances being a little bit trickier but also has some pretty good power and finesse.”
Vondrousova, who said she has been nursing a sore left arm since her third-round match, withdrew from doubles with Barbora Strycova.
“Maddie, she’s playing great tennis,” Vondrousova said. “We practiced before the tournament, so I expect a tough match. Now in the quarterfinals, I feel like everything can happen.”
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs.No.23 Zheng Qinwen
When Iga Swiatek lost in the fourth round to Jelena Ostapenko, Sabalenka was guaranteed the Hologic WTA Tour’s No.1 ranking come next Monday. It’s another breakthrough for Sabalenka, who won her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open back in January.
She and Vondrousova are the only players in position to collect a second major this year -- half of the available total. Sabalenka has been playing in a pinkish Nike ensemble, both dress and shoes, and says she feels like Barbie. She’s been performing as well as the Barbie movie that has already grossed more than $1 billion.
Sabalenka dispatched No.13 Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-3 and is now 21-2 at Grand Slam events, six more wins than she’s ever accumulated in a single season. Sabalenka knows Zheng’s game because she’s practiced with her a couple of times.
“Forehand is really heavy, I would say backhand as well,” Sabalenka said. “Serving well. Moving well. It’s like for her, nothing to lose so she’s playing at her best.
Zheng, a rising 20-year-old from China is into her first career quarterfinal at a major. She looked sharp, hanging a 6-2, 6-4 defeat on No.5 seed Ons Jabeur. And while Zheng got through in straight sets (after two matches that went the distance), Jabeur was at something less than 100 percent following a bout with the flu.
It was the fourth career win over a Top 10 player and, she said, the happiest moment of her career. Still, Sabalenka will be a far tougher out.
“Honestly the feeling was fantastic, especially in that moment,” Zheng said of her win over Jabeur. “I feel this is like important win for me. It’s not [like] I [won] a tennis [match] [the] defensive way. I win the match today by my own [ability] to go ahead to take the match.”
Jabeur has played them both and has some thoughts.
“I think Aryna hits harder,” she said. “I think Aryna has much more experience. Her game, you always on your toes. She has great hands. I think her ball bounces higher on the second serve. Yeah, it's going to be interesting.
“But my money’s on Aryna.”