Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Bulgarian Woman of Mystery strikes again

She did it again. Tsvetana Pironkova, returning to the tour after a three-year absence, took care of 18th seed Donna Vekic today, defeating the talented Croatian player in a little over an hour. Pironkova's 6-4, 6-1 victory moves her to the U.S. Open round of 16, in which she'll face off against Alize Cornet.

The bad news is that Pironkova's thigh, which is wrapped, is now obviously hindering her. Her tricky serve, which was splendid in the second round, was considerably off in today's match, and she limped around the court during changeovers and at the conclusion of the match. Here's hoping that some massage and some physio magic will have her in top form again by Monday. 

In other Saturday news, Maria Sakkari all but blew away Amanda Anisimova, 6-3, 6-1, in just under an hour. Six-time champion Serena Williams needed three sets, but she defeated countrywoman and 2017 champion Sloane Stephens, and Elise Mertens defeated Caty McNally in straight sets. And Muchova and Karolina Muchova and Sorana Cirstea took it all the way to a third set tiebreak, in which Muchova saved three set points and emerged the winner, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7).

Vika Azarenka continued her excellent form with a straight-set victory over Iga Swiatek, and 2017 runner-up Madison Keys was forced to retired against Alize Cornet. Keys struggled with a neck/shoulder issue throughout the first set and for half of the second set, when she had to stop playing. Cornet, for her part, had 71/54 first and second serve win percentages.

Finally, in singles competition, 2nd seed Sofia Kenin defeated Ons Jabeur 7-6, 6-3 in a tough competition that was especially tight in the first set. The Australian Open champion was dealing with cramps during the match, she said afterwards in an interview. (Her father/coach appeared to be suffering with a near-nervous collapse.)

In doubles, 2nd seeds Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won their match, as did 4th seeds Kveta Peschke and Demi Schuurs. (Mertens and Schuurs ended their partnership so that Mertens could concentrate on singles, but Mertens apparently had a change of heart about doubles competition.)

Top seeds Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic were disqualified from competition because of Mladenovic's "bubble within the bubble" confinement (brought about by her contact with Benoit Paire, who tested positive for Covid-19).  Mladenovic hasn't exactly made new fans by her reference to herself as a virtual prisoner in her hotel, but--since bubble-within-the-bubble player Adrian Mannarino was allowed to compete yesterday--the Frenchwoman's plight has advanced to another level. Nassau County officials made the call, and it has to be a really bitter pill for both Babos and Mladenovic to swallow. As of this writing, it's still unknown how long Mladenovic will have to remain in her hotel room.

Perhaps there's a moral to this story, like "Don't play cards with Benoit Paire." But I suspect it's more like "Don't hold a major tournament during a pandemic."

Here is the round of 16 singles draw:

Jennifer Brady (28) vs. Angie Kerber (17)
Yulia Putintseva (23( vs. Petra Martic (8)
Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Anett Kontaveit (14)
Shelby Rogers vs. Petra Kvitova (6)
Alize Cornet vs Tsvetana Pironkova
Maria Sakkari (15) vs. Serena Williams (3)
Vika Azarenka vs. Karolina Muchova (20)
Elise Mertens (16) vs. Sofia Kenin (2)

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