A determined and dangerous looking Sloane Stephens brushed aside two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round of the US Open on Friday. The third seed produced a fine performance to down Azarenka 6-3, 6-4 on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The defending champion began the match in fantastic fashion as she was moving terrifically on the court, hitting her shots beautifully on the run, and using the angles extremely well. On the other hand Azarenka was really struggling with her first serve and it cost her dearly early on in the first set as she lost her serve in the third game.
Stephens was generating so much power on her shots and directing them towards Azarenka, who was allowing herself to be dragged all over the place. Errors on the Azarenka forehand continued to pile and Stephens broke to love to take the first set. It was really solid tennis from the American.
Stephens picked up where she left off, and Azarenka was looking more and more frustrated at her inability to play her aggressive brand of tennis, which she is known for. Stephens was making mistakes, but they all still seemed to be staying in the court, whereas Azarenka’s errors were giving away points and the vital break in the 4th game of the second set. However, Stephens gave the break right back, with a double-fault.
Azarenka then found her rhythm and surged ahead for the first time with a break of serve. But, her happiness didn’t last long as Stephens broke back again after a brief rain break, which forced the roof to be closed. It was undoubtedly tremendous tennis from Stephens eventually, breaking the Azarenka serve once more to finish off the match. The rallying was simply exceptional during the encounter.
In her on-court interview, Stephens credited her fighting spirit for the win. She said: “I just battled as hard as I could, ran down every ball. I was playing a former grand slam champion, she raised her level and sometimes things got tight. I just had to stay in it and I did that well. I fought for every point. I’ve never played under this roof so it was super cool. The man upstairs was definitely looking after me. I was thankful for the break.”
Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday
Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive. And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court
Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world. But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle. Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club. Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round. That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight. Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015. On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.
Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12
On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships. Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month. Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event. In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form. And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.
Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18
This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury. Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour. Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys. Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run. They have split four previous meetings at all levels. Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2. But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day. While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.
Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court
Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third. Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result. Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season. And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third. Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court? She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable. Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.
Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court
This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day. And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court. Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court. And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne. But de Minaur is also having a strong season. The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne. Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident. While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface. And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4. He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.
Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round. Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.
Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades. Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019. 36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament. She was a semifinalist here in 2013.
Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third. But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu. She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday
The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start. Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days.
The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz. The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.
The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza. The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday. The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier
Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris. Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid. She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years. She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed. The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina. They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur. That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago. I expect a similar result on Sunday.
Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu
Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year. Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay. Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player. This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels. He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals. However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year. While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task. At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.
Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu
Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara. But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022. She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season. And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters. Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors. As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka. Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros. Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets. But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.
Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier
Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players. Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles. He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas). The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country. Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019. But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April. Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.
Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen
Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer. Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year. But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her. Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam. But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels. While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.
Other Notable Matches on Sunday:
Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago. But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022. Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.
Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season. This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros. He is 8-6 on clay this year. Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.
Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova. Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times. Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
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