US Open: Barty Is Finding Her Groove At The Right Time

NEW YORK, August 31, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Women’s No. 2 seed Ashleigh Barty has found her groove at the United States Open, and with her 7-5, 6-3 third-round win over 30th seed Maria Sakkari that included 11 service aces, she’s positioned herself as a front runner to return to World No. 1 after the completion of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

Friday afternoon on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the 23-year-old Barty’s fourth victory in five career meetings against Sakkari from Greece – and third this season – meant she’s the only player to make the second week at every major in 2019.

“I think overall today there were parts of the match I was really happy with,” said Barty following her win during her post-match news conference, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “I feel like a few of the things that I’ve been lacking over the last month kind of came together a little bit today. I felt like I served a lot better, controlled the ball off the first strike more often than not. In the bigger moments, I felt like there was some better stuff there.”

A year ago, the affable Aussie Barty reached the fourth round of the US Open before losing to Karolina Pliskova. Now, she’s safely into the fourth round again and will be favored against No. 18 seed Wang Qiang of China, as she goes for her third major quarterfinal of the season. Wang defeated 74th-ranked Fiona Ferro of France, 7-6 (1), 6-3, to set up the fourth-round meeting with Barty on Sunday.

Friday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium, former US Open finalist and tenth seed Madison Keys booked her ticket into the fourth round with a 6-3, 7-5 win over fellow American and 20th seed Sofia Kenin in one hour and 20 minutes.  Two weeks ago, Keys lifted the trophy at the Western & Southern Open and beat Kenin in the semifinal round en route to the title. Now, she’s been on a roll since, winning nine consecutive hard court matches. Keys saved all eight of her break points to advance against fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who beat countrywoman and 32nd seed Dayana Yastremska, 6-2, 6-0, in just 53 minutes to reach the fourth round for the third straight year.

Around the US Open

• Third seed Karolina Pliskova fought off a big scare from 62nd-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia by overcoming 23 break points and 49 winners to hold on for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 win on Louis Armstrong Stadium. At a set apiece and with the momentum swinging back in her favor, Pliskova jumped ahead 4-1 and it was her consistency that enabled her to close out the tough match and move into the fourth round for the fourth time.

During her on-court interview after her win, Pliskova praised Jabeur in defeat. “She can hit anything from any part of the court, and the ball stays very low. It’s not a game I love to play. Physically, it was also very tough. But it’s important to win, so I don’t care how I feel.”

Next, Pliskova will face 16th seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, who came into the US Open with an 0-2 summer hard court match record. However, Konta advanced to the fourth round for the third time in her career with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 33rd seed Zhang Shuai of China, controlling the 72-minute match with her powerful serve and forehand returns. It was Konta’s fifth win in six career meetings against Zhang.

• No. 22 seed Petra Martic of Croatia defeated 2018 US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 6-4, 6-3, to reach the fourth round and a meeting with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who reached the round of 16 for the 18th time in her career. Sevastova had achieved the quarterfinals or better in each of the past three years at Flushing Meadows, so it was a bit of an upset. Meanwhile, Martic, who finished 15-3 during the clay-court portion of the season, reached the quarterfinals of the French Open and also won her first WTA title at Istanbul. Additionally, she reached the round of 16 on grass at Wimbledon.

The eighth seed Williams of the United States beat No. 44 Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2 in Friday afternoon’s featured match on Arthur Ashe Stadium that took just 73 minutes to reach its conclusion. It happened on an historic day for tennis in which Althea Gibson made her debut as the first black player to compete at the U.S. Championships (the precursor to the US Open). Also, 20 years ago, the now-37-year-old Williams won the first of her six US Open women’s singles titles, at age 17. During her post-match interview on court, Williams showed a laughing mood and suggested she liked playing in the day because it enabled her to go home and “see her baby,” now almost two years-old.

Later, Williams said in her post-match press conference, “Had to go out there on business. I think I tried to do that with all three matches thus far. It was just different because I know that (Muchova) could play today. I knew what she could do.”

By the numbers

• With her Friday loss to Ashleigh Barty, Maria Sakkari is now 0-7 in third-round matches at majors.

• Prior to this year, Petra Martic had never made it past the second round of the US Open and hadn’t even advanced that fare since 2011.

• Ons Jabeur was playing for history on Friday in her third-round match against No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova. Had she won, she would have become the first Arab woman to break into the WTA Top 50 and also the first to make the fourth round of a major. Now ranked No. 62, Jabeur is defending nearly 500 points between now and the end of the season, which includes reaching the final at Moscow last fall. So, if she’s able to maintain her level of play going forward, she just might crack the Top 50 after all.

What they’re saying

World No. 2 Ashleigh Barty on if there’s any difference coming into a major as a Grand Slam champion: “Nothing has changed I’m still the same person. It doesn’t change how I prepare or how I live my life, It was an incredible journey in Paris. I loved every minute of it. But as soon as we come back over to America, I can’t wait to get to New York.”

What they’re writing

Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, on Coco Gauff, from “A Win That Shows Guile Beyond Her Years”: “In just the second United States Open singles match of her life, 15-year-old Coco Gauff did an excellent impression of a veteran on Thursday night: keeping her cool, measuring her risks and making the shots that mattered most. 

“Her 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Timea Babos, a 26-year-old qualifier from Hungary, was a thing of grit and beauty. It made Gauff, a fleet and resourceful American, the youngest player to reach the third round in singles at the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996. 

“Things won’t get easier or less flood-it from here. Gauff’s third-round opponent will be none other than Naomi Osaka, the world’s No. 1 player and the defending U.S. Open champion.”