...'cause we're going out tonight
Put on your red dress baby 'cause we're going out tonight
Well now wear some boxing gloves in case some fool might start a fight
Aleksandra Krunic, known on WTA Backspin as the Serbian Good Luck Charm because of her stunning Fed Cup doubles performances, put on her red dress tonight and somehow managed not to get punch-drunk, though it was her seventh consecutive match at the U.S. Open. Her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, did look punch-drunk, but it is now programmed into the 16th seed's brain to fight, and when it seems that everyone and everything is against her--to fight harder.
Azarenka defeated Krunic 4-6 6-4, 6-4 in a two-hour and 19-minute thriller that literally had me on the edge of my seat much of the time. If you look at the stats for this match, you can't even begin to get an idea of what the match was really like; it just doesn't translate.
Krunic had to go through qualifying, and during her first week in Flushing Meadows, she managed to knock off both 27th seed Madison Keys and 3rd seed Petra Kvitova. Krunic is a small woman by professional tennis standards: She stands only 5 feet and four inches tall. She isn't bulky or stocky. What she is is incredibly fast, and she can hit the ball way harder than one might expect. She also has a great deal of composure, and a great deal of fight in her.
Azarenka, a two-time finalist at the Open, was out for much of the year with an injury, yet she has been showing flashes of her old self since she arrived in New York. She needed that self--and then some--to ward off the assaults she had to undergo from Krunic. In the end, experience, as it so often does, determined who won the match. Krunic would go off a bit and then use the pressure to play herself back into a winning (or at least neutral) position, but--and here I'm dragging out a well-worn phrase--she really needed to win it in straight sets. Toward the end, the young Serbian player lost her mental edge, and Azarenka imposed herself successfully.
No matter what happens from here on out, Krunic has secured a spot in my U.S. Open top 10. Her performance at this event was stunning, and her combination of athleticism (really, she looks "French" to me, moving like Lenglen, Mauresmo and Cornet), creative shot-making and composure is scary. And did I say she hits the ball really hard? (Krunic cites Jelena Jankovic as her mentor, and it would have been a good idea, several times tonight, if she had used the signature Jankovic backhand down the line to finish points. Maybe next time.)
As for Vika Azarenka--she made a "great escape" tonight, and that can be a very good thing for a top player at a big event. She faces Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals, and--if Makarova stays "on"--Azarenka will have that big, tricky lefty serve to solve.
Here is the quarterfinal draw:
Serena Williams (1) vs. Flavia Pennetta (11)
Victoria Azarenka (16) vs. Ekaterina Makarova (17)
Belinda Bencic vs. Peng Shuai
Caroline Wozniacki (10) vs. Sara Errani (13)