Sunday, September 24, 2023

There is no trophy like redemption

For two consecutive weeks, the WTA Tour has featured the kind of drama we don't get to see that often: Two top players--one stuck in a double slump, and one stuck in something much worse--won big titles, just when they most needed to win them.

2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova started the year in fine fashion. She won the tournament in Dubai, once again serving as Iga Swiatek's kryptonite in the final. But in both singles and doubles (she was an elite doubles player long before her breakout in singles), the Czech star faded away as the season progressed. Krejcikova and long-time partner Katerina Siniakova won both the Australian Open and Indian Wells, and it was fair to think that they were on track to win the Grand Slam that had just eluded them in 2022 when they had to miss the French Open because Krejcikova was ill. 

But they stopped winning, and they made early exits in the remaining majors. This dramatic fall in both singles and doubles was mysterious and somewhat disturbing. But no worries--Krejcikova showed up on the hard courts of San Diego and took home both of the trophies. She defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia, Danielle Collins and Sofia Kenin, and she and Siniakova won their third title of the season.

This past week, the beautiful Guadalajara tournament, a 1000 event, became somewhat controversial when several top players withdrew. The tournament was moved to a post-U.S. Open, pre-Asian swing slot, and those top players made it clear that this change was undesirable. But it was nevertheless an excellent tournament, and it featured memorable performances from Martina Trevisan and Caroline Dolehide.

And not all of the tour's top players stayed home--Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia, Madison Keys, and Alona Ostapenko were all there, as were Vika Azarenka and Sofia Kenin. Sakkari, the 2022 runner-up, has rock star status in Guadalajara--the crowd adores her. And she probably really needed them this year. The Greek player last won a tournament in 2019, and since then, she had lost six finals. Add to that the fact that she reached the third round at this year's Australian Open, and went out in the first round at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

But in her beloved Guadaljara, Maria Sakkari prevailed, defeating the likes of Camila Giorgi, Caroline Garcia and breakout star Dolehide. 

At one point during her emotional trophy acceptance speech, Sakkari had to pause because the crowed was screaming "Maria! Maria! Maria!" so loudly. And while the Sak bun deserves to be on display as much as possible, it had to feel good to be able to conceal it under a flashy sombrero as a mariachi band played its beautiful, spirited music for the new champion.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

My U.S. Open top 10

Here are my top 10 U.S. Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10. California, here she comes: Unseeded Katherine Hui, an 18-year-old from the U.S., won the junior girls title, defeating 9th seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic in the final. Hui is on her way to Stanford, where she's sure to get an enthusiastic welcome from the tennis team. The 8th-seeded Romanian team of Mara Gae and Anastasia Gureva won the doubles title, defeating Sara Saito and Nanaka Sato of Japan.

9. At least the players were good: I'm not going to go so far as to say that the U.S. Open crowd is now ruder than the French Open crowd, but it has certainly reached the French level. It never used to be that way, and it's really discouraging to hear cheering over double faults, yelling during points, and the constant "calling" of lines. As for the commentary--well, ESPN remains even worse than Tennis Channel; some things never change.

8. The predictable and the unpredictable: First there was the heat, which brought back memories of days at the Australian Open, when players were given IV fluids on the court, and were sometimes removed in wheelchairs. This situation isn't going to improve, so more attention will need to be paid to protecting the players. 

Then there was the issue of having the women use the heavier tennis balls. Some of the players had been asking to use these balls, and the WTA did have reservations about it, but this year, they were introduced in the women's game. There needs to be more discussion about this issue, and I'm sure there will be, but Marketa Vondrousova has already stated that she believes that the balls caused the elbow injury that resulted in her withdrawal from doubles competition. (This was especially unfortunate because her partner was Barbora Strycova, playing in her final tournament.)

And of course, there was the matter of the environmental protesters that showed up during the semifinals and disrupted play. Three of them were easily escorted off of the grounds, but they fourth had glued his feet to the stadium floor, and play was interrupted for 49 minutes.

7. A bittersweet observance: 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open's providing equal pay to women and men, so there was an on-court celebration which honored both the anniversary and WTA trailblazer Billie Jean King. Michelle Obama delivered a down-to-earth and inspired speech, and it was all very nice, and yes, all the majors now (finally) pay players equally, but.....there are only four majors a year. The rest of the season, the pay disparity is offensive. And while players like to honor BJK and thank her, what would be really useful would be for them to emulate her and the Original Nine. The sad truth is that equality must always be fought for, not just talked about at ceremonies.

6. Rolling to number 20: Diede de Groot won her sixth U.S. Open singles title, her 20th singles major, and her third consecutive Grand Slam (not a "Calendar Grand Slam") in New York. It's enough to make your head spin. She wasn't able to win her sixth U.S. Open doubles title because her partner, Jiske Griffioen (they were the top seeds), had to retire during her singles semifinal match and was unable to play. The 2nd seeds, Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane, got a walkover, and thereby won the title.

5. Consistency? Czech. Brilliant shot-making? Czech.: Her shoulder was generously taped, and she also sustained an elbow injury, but Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova nevertheless backed up her London victory (as the only unseeded player to ever win Wimbledon) with a U.S. Open run to the quarterfinals. She was stopped by a very in-form Madison Keys, but being in the final eight was an emphatic follow-up statement.

French Open finalist Karolina Muchova did one better and made it all the way to the semifinals. Coco Gauff stopped Muchova's run, but it was a beautiful run to watch, and the third set of that semifinal--thanks to both players-- was just thrilling. A (finally) healthy Karolina Muchova's game is a thing to behold.

4. Storm damage: As if there weren't enough disruptive things already going on at the U.S. Open, Tropical Storm Alona blew in right about the time that defending champion and world number 1 Iga Swiatek was set to play her round of 16 match. Ostapenko, the only player on the tour who was undefeated (3-0) against Swiatek, defeated her yet again, not only knocking her out of the tournament, but also knocking her off of the top of the rankings, and assuring that Aryna Sabalenka would become the number 1 player in the world. 

After wreaking her havoc, Tropical Storm Alona dissipated (with some help from Coco Gauff, in the quarterfinals), as storms do (and as this one frequently does).  

3. What did you say your name was?: Anna Danilina and Harri Heliovaara had never met when they found themselves in the referee's office, hoping that they could somehow enter the mixed doubles competition. The pair--she, from Kazakhstan--he, from Finland--decided to take a chance on each other, and what a decision that turned out to be! Danilina and Heliovaara won the mixed doubles title, and--to make their victory even more dramatic--they defeated top seeds Jessica Pegula and Austin Krajicek in the final. As a bonus, they were both utterly charming during the trophy ceremony.

2. When it pays to take a chance: Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe played together for the first time in Montreal this year, and now, just a few weeks later, they've won the U.S. Open. The pair defeated 2020 champions Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva 7-6, 6-3 (that first set tiebreak was riveting). During the trophy ceremony, each woman thanked the other for taking a chance on her. This is Dabrowski's first major title in women's doubles--she has two mixed doubles titles. And this is not only Routliffe's first major title--it's the first time that a woman from New Zealand has ever won a major title of any kind.

1. Holding a racket or holding a mic, Coco gets it done: She won DC, then she won Cincinnati, but instead of being tired, Coco Gauff was simply fired up by the time she reached New York. In fact, she was speeding around the court like a woman on a mission, which is exactly what she was. Defending beautifully, displaying an upgraded forehand, and solving problems like a boss, Gauff got the better of tough opponents like Caroline Wozniacki, Alona Ostapenko, Karolina Muchova, and Aryna Sabalenka. And when she won the U.S. Open, she used the microphone not only to show gratitude and graciousness, but also to "have a word" with those who have had low expectations of her.

At just 19 years old, Gauff has the poise--both on and off the court--of a champion. She was last year's French Open runner-up in both singles and doubles, so it shouldn't have surprised anyone that she took it a step farther and, this time, got the big trophy. We can only look forward to what our new champion will achieve next.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

From prodigy to major champion--Coco Gauff makes the journey in style

Today, 19-year-old Coco Gauff became the 2023 U.S. Open champion, defeating soon-to-be number 1 in the world Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. It was an exciting final, and featured an opening set in which Sabalenka--always a formidable opponent--looked as if she could do no wrong. The Belarusian star overpowered Gauff (which isn't that easy to do) and broke her three times.

The second set was a different story, which shouldn't have surprised anyone. Gauff saved a couple of break points to start the set, then broke her opponent. As the set progressed, Gauff's defensive skills became the perfect foil to the very power that had caused the 6th seed problems in the first set. She was relentless, and won the set to set up some real third set drama.

But the only thing truly dramatic about the final set--other than the ferocity of Gauff's sometimes-unstable forehand--was the degree to which Sabalenka continued to make errors. The ball just kept coming back to her, eventually forcing her to hit an error. In all, Sabalenka hit 19 winners, but made 46 unforced errors.

In her post-match speech, the new champion said the usual things--she thanked her family and her team, thanked the tournament staff, thanks the fans, and gave touching praise to her opponent. But---in the tradition of Italy's Sara Errani--she also thanked her detractors. It is sometimes hard to believe that so much poise and thoughtful speech is coming from a 19-year-old, but this isn't just any 19-year-old--it's Coco Gauff.

Not long before she competed in the U.S. Open, Gauff won the 500 tournament in Washington, DC, and the 100 event in Cincinnati, presumably making her the hottest prospect coming into the Open. But winning warmup tournaments often doesn't translate to winning an upcoming major. In Gauff's case, however, those victories were just a taste of what was to come. 

Aryna Sabalenka's consolation prize isn't a bad one--on Monday, she becomes the number 1 player in the world. Her new ranking was clinched when current world number 1 Iga Swiatek lost to Alona Ostapenko in the round of 16. Swiatek has held the number 1 ranking for 75 consecutive weeks, the longest that a first-time number 1 has ever held it.

Friday, September 8, 2023

U.S. Open semifinals--a drama in two acts

In the last couple of days, the U.S. Open has been a bit overwhelming, but not always in a good way. The extreme heat brought back memories of days at the Australian Open when players had to get IV fluids and the old Rebound Ace surface caused the rubber to melt on the wheelchairs. And there was the issue of the first semifinal, which was interrupted for 49 minutes as three environmenal activists were escorted out of the stadium while officials had to deal with a fourth one who had glued his feet to the stadium floor.

Then there was the tennis. 

In Thursday night's first semifinal, Coco Gauff easily dominated Karolina Muchova, whose usual very good serve wasn't there, and who also wasn't bringing her usual shot-making magic. It looked like a case of nerves, yet I did have that niggling feeling that it might also be physical. Muchova had quite a bit of tape on her body, but then, if I were she, I would, too.

Down 1-5, the world number 10 seemed to suddenly "wake up," and proceeded to win three straight games. But Gauff took that set 6-4. She led 1-0 in the second set when play had to be stopped because of a lot of yelling in the stands that turned out to be environmental protesters. As stated above, play was delayed for over three-quarters of an hour while those in charge extricated a protester who was glued to the floor. (You can't make this stuff up.)

During a portion of this "break," Muchova had a medical consultation. When the players returned to the court, they both held serve until Gauff broke Muchova to go up 5-3. But when the world number 6 served for the match and held a match point at 40-30, Muchova--looking totally like herself (i.e., gracefully making what look like impossible shots)--broke her. At 5-all, the match contained all the tension that it lacked earlier. 

Muchova would go on to save five more match points in the final segment of the match, which was as thrilling as anyone could imagine, and which had the crowd in awe of the players. 

In the end, though, Gauff simply would not be denied. Having had just about everything thrown at her that can be thrown at an opponent in a tennis match--including at the net and over her head--she remained steady. Near the end, there was a 40-shot rally that fans will be talking about for some time to come. Gauff then ended the whole thing on her sixth match point. Her 6-4, 7-5 victory puts her into the second major final of her career.

And while we might have thought that the second semifinal would be comparatively "normal," we would have been fooled. In that match, Madison Keys, who has been playing at an extremely high level in New York, walked onto the court and proceeded to do what some might consider a magic trick--she bageled the soon-to-be number 1 Aryna Sabalenka. Keys, who hit twelve winners and made only three unforced errors in the set, was totally dominant over a player who is not easily dominated.

Sabalenka--never one to hide her emotions--became increasingly frustrated and angry. And then an image of Dr. David Banner popped into my mind: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." 

That image proved to be an accurate metaphor. After emphatically losing her first set of the tournament, Sabalenka fought back. Keys went up 5-3 in the second set, but was broken. She then went up 5-4, but her attempt to win the match was destroyed by a series of errors, including a double fault. Sabalenka was able to take the set to ta tiebreak, which she won, 7-1. 

Keys broke to go up 4-2 in the third set, but Sabalenka broke her back. That set also wound up in a tiebreak, which Sabalenka won 10-5. (At the U.S. Open, a 10-point final set tiebreak is played. I see no need for this, and Sabalenka wasn't the first player to think that she'd won the match after she "won" a seven-point tiebreak). 

For what it's worth, the Belarusian star is only the third woman in the Open Era to win a major semifinal after losing the first set 0-6. The others were Steffi Graf (French Open) and Ana Ivanovic (Australian Open).

Sabalenka is 2-3 against Gauff, and 1-2 against her on hard courts.

Paths to the final:

round 1--def. Laura Siegemund
round 2--def. Mirra Andreeva
round 3--def. Elise Mertens (32)
round of 16--def. Caroline Wozniacki
quarterfinals--def. Alona Ostapenko (20)
seminfinals--def. Karolina Muchova (10)

round 1--def. Maryna Zenevska
round 2--def. Jodie Burrage
round 3--def. Clara Burel
round of 16--def. Daria Kasatkina (13)
quarterfinals--def. Zheng Qinwen (23)
semfinals--def. Madison Keys (17)

In other news, defending wheelchair champion Diede de Groot has now won 120 consecutive matches. If that sounds impressive--and it is--bear in mind that her mentor, Esther Vergeer, won 470 consecutive matches.

Some miscellaneous notes about this past week:

The WTA finally announced a location for the 2023 WTA Finals; the event will be held in Cancun, Mexico. Tomas Petera, negotiating for the Czech Republic's bid to have the finals held in Prague, had a lot to say.

Some advice: If you have no context whatsoever, and even less knowledge of the tour, please refrain from accusing a player of bigotry, and please refrain from automatically believing those with no context and even less knowledge.

And finally--but not at all surprisingly--an ESPN commentator, i.e., someone who is paid very well to say words, told us that she has a hard time with pronunciation; it just isn't her thing, Well, okay.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

We have our semifinalists!

In today's first U.S. Open semifinal, 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka took control early, winning the first set against Zheng Qinwen 6-0. Sabalenka served about as well as one could serve, and--while Zheng managed to make the match more competitive in the secone set, she never saw a break opportunity. Sabalenka defeated her 6-0, 6-3. Zheng has been quite impressive at this tournament, but there wasn't a lot that she could do against an in-form Sabalenka.

Aryna Sabalenka, by the way, has now reached the semifinals of all four majors this year.

In the last quarterfinal to be played, Madison Keys began business just the same as those in the quarterfinals before her did, getting a 6-1 first set against Marketa Vondrousova. In the second set, Vondrousova was able to be more competitive, but failed to convert nine break opportunities, The Wimbledon champion still had her shoulder taped and was presumably still dealing with an elbow issue, though she didn't appear to be especially hampered in her movement.

Vondrousova saved two match points, but Keys prevailed, 6-1, 6-4. Vondrousova's failure to convert any break points was somewhat mystifying.

Keys last reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2017, when she defeated Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets. She would go on to lose the final to Sloane Stephens, who defeated her 6-3, 6-0.

(And I'll take this opportunity to say that I think that Madi looks great in her stylish and colorful kit.)

Here is the singles semifinal draw:

Coco Gauff (6) vs. Karolina Muchova (10)
Madison Keys (17) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

And here is the doubles semifinal draw:

Gaby Dabrowski/Erin Routliffe (16) vs. Hsieh Su-wei/Wang Xinyu (8)
Laura Siegemund/Vera Zvonareva (12) vs. Jen Brady/Luisa Stefani

Gauff and Muchova drop just six games as they advance to the U.S. Open semifinals

Coco Gauff is a talented player with a strategy-minded coach, and--while I don't know what her specific game plan was for yesterday's quarterfinal match--I know what it might as well have been: Ostapenko dismantled the world number 1 in the last match, so--no worries! Because, with rare exceptions (and yes, there was a big one in 2017), Ostapenko is the queen of inconsistency. She is brilliant in one match, and easily destructs in the next. To be fair, Gauff gave Ostapenko plenty to handle today, but hitting 12 winners and making 36 unforced errors says it all. Gauff defeated the errant Latvian 6-1, 6-2 in just and hour and eight minutes. (Also, to be fair, Ostapenko said that she had been told that she would play a night match, which certainly would have been more beneficial to her since she wasn't able to go to bed until 5 a.m. on Monday morning.)

In Tuesday's other quarterfinal, French Open finalist Karolina Muchova faced off against Sorana Cirstea. Muchova not only put on her usual style clinic, she also put on a clinic in shot selection and accuracy. Muchova didn't allow Cirstea any games in the first set, and--while the Romanian player raised her level in the second set--she was defeated 6-0, 6-3. Muchova had a 70/60 first and second serve percentage stat, was successful at the net in 76% of her attempts, and hit 32 winners while making just 15 unforced errors.

Both Muchova and Czech countrywoman Marketa Vondrousova have had so many problems with injuries--in Muchova's case, she was told by doctors that she might now ever play tennis again--that the second half of 2023 feels like a long-delayed showcase of their considerable style and talent. Wimbledon champion Vondrousova will play her quarterfinal match tonight.

In doubles, the team of Jen Brady and Luisa Stefani has reached the semifinals, as has the team of Gaby Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe. In mixed doubles, top seeds Jess Pegula and Austin Krajicek have reached the quarterfinals, as have Ena Shibahara and Mate Pavic.

And in wheelchair singes, defending champion Diede de Groot won her opening match, defeating Pauline Deroulede.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Bandaged and wounded, Vondrousova prevails at the U.S. Open

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova had to withdraw from doubles (a sad affair, since this was her partner Barbora Strycova's final event) because of an elbow injury. The Czech star stated that she thinks that the heavier ball was the cause. She also showed up for her singles round of 16 match with Kinesio tape all over her left shoulder, and--before too long--it was obvious that she was somewhat hampered by pain.

Vondrousova's opponent, Peyton Stearns, hit the ground running, and took the first set 7-6. Things didn't look that good for Vondrousova, but right about the time that one would have expected the anti-inflammatory med that she took to kick in, there was indeed a noticeable difference. And as Vondrousova pulled herself together, Stearns began to fade, though she continued to put whatever pressure she could on her opponent. But Vondrousova's serving was too good, and she won the match 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. This is the Czech player's first time to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.

Another ailing star, 2022 finalist Ons Jabeur, who has felt ill throughout the tournament, finally ran out of fuel. Jabeur broke her opponent, Zheng Qinwen, when she served for the match, then went on to save three match points, but it wasn't enough. Zheng defeated her 6-2, 6-4.

Meanwhile, 3rd seed Jessica Pegula, the U.S.'s top ranked player, fell to countrywoman Madison Keys is straight sets. Montreal champion Pegula has never gotten past the quarterfinals of a major, and at this event, she didn't get that far. Keys didn't let her. The 2017 finalist dominated Pegula with her backhand and wound up hitting 21 winners in her 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Finally, soon-to-be world number 1 Aryna Sabalenka faced off against Daria Kasatkina. The Russian star, for all her graceful athleticism and strategic skill, doesn't have the kind of serve that can go far against Sabalenka (Kasatkina didn't even hold serve until the fifth game of the second set) unless Sabalenka is making a whole lot of errors, which--form time to time--she certainly does. But tonight, the 2nd seed was on point most of the time. She defeated Kasatkina 6-1, 6-3, hit 31 winners, and broke her opponent six times.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Alona Ostapenko (20) vs. Coco Gauff (6)
Sorana Cirstea (30) vs. Karolina Muchova (10)
Marketa Vondrousova (9) vs. Madison Keys (17)
Zheng Qinwen (23) vs. 

In other U.S. Open news, top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova went out in the second round. Sadly, this wasn't exactly unexpected; Krejcikova is in the midst of a significant slump in both singles and doubles. And in mixed doubles, top seeds Jess Pegula and partner Austin Krajcek have advanced to the quarterfinals. If they win, they will play Taylor Townsend and Ben Shelton.

Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Barbora Krejcikova has beaten her the last two times they've played each other. Jessica Pegula has beaten her three times, if you count the United Cup. However, both Krejcikova and Pegula have also lost to world number 1 Iga Swiatek; only Alona Ostapenko held a 3-0 record against her prior to their meeting in the roun of 16 at the U.S. Open. 

2017 French Open champion Ostapenko is a planet unto herself. A ballroom dancer-turned tennis star, the player that the Backspinner calls "Latvian Thunder" is known for her hilarious facial expressions, her constant questioning of electronic line calls--and her blistering groundstrokes. During her 2017 French Open campaign, her average stroke speed was clocked at 76 mph. 

Ostapenko goes for it, no matter what. She makes a lot of errors, but she hits a lot of winners. On a good day, she's full-out danger; on a bad day, she's just too error-prone to do anything. The world number 21 has, however, added something to her game that she needed--a really good serve. If she puts that serve together with "good day" Ostapenko tennis, she's practically unbeatable.

Ask Swiatek, who--despite winning the first set of their Sunday match--appeared flummoxed much of the time that she was on the court with the Latvian star. Ostapenko went after Swiaetek's forehand, she took time away from her, and she went on, as ESPN's Chris McKendry said, "one of her tears." She defeated the top seed 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, giving the baker a small (and almost a large) sample of her own famous baked goods.

Later, in press, Ostapenko said: “I think the main thing is she doesn’t really like to play big hitters. She likes to have some time. When I play fast, aggressive and powerful, she’s a little bit in trouble.” That sums it up pretty well.

Of course, this is the Ostapenko Show, so there's more than one thing going on. Because of Swiatek's round of 16 departure--as of next week--Aryna Sabalenka will be the new world number 1. Latvian Thunder indeed.

Also yesterday, 6th seed Coco Gauff had to fight with everything she had against comeback star Caroline Wozniacki (and against the nonstop mouthpiece otherwise known as Brad Gilbert). It paid off. Gauff defeated the former Australian Open champion 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Meanwhile, 33-year-old Sorana Cirstea became the oldest player to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open when she defeated Belinda Bencic in straight sets. This is Cirstea's second time to reach a major quarterfinal; she reached the quarterfinal of the 2009 French Open. Cirstea, as I've previously noted, flies under the radar most of the time, but can be deadly at majors.

2023 French Open finalist Karolina Muchova also had a fight on her hands. The new world number 10 (finally!) had to deal with an inpressive Wang Xinyu, but defeated her 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 in what was an enjoyable match to watch. Following the match, Muchova, who plays the guitar, was asked--for some reason--what song she would play if she were to play one right then, and her answer was perfect: "Highway to Hell"

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Four U.S. players reach round of 16 at U.S. Open

The U.S.A.'s top player, 3rd seed Jessica Pegula, is set to compete in the U.S. Open round of 16. Montreal champion Pegula has defeated always-dangerous Camila Giorgi, Patricia Maria Tig, and the resurgent Elina Svitolina. Her next opponent will be friend, countrywoman and 2017 finalist Madison Keys. Keys, seeded 17th, defeated 14th seed Liudmila Samsonova in the third round. 

Undoubtedly a highly anticipated fourth round match will be played by 6th seed Coco Gauff and Caroline Wozniacki, who has come out of retirement and is making quite an impact in New York. Wozniacki has already taken out Petra Kvitova and Jennifer Brady (who also just returned to the tour and who also looks like she never left). 

Finally, Peyton Stearns--who played for the University of Texas and became that state's first NCAA champion in women's tennis--will face Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova.

The third round wasn't without drama. A sick Ons Jabeur played an injured Marie Bouzkova, and--at times--it was painful to watch them struggle. I thought that Bouzkova was going to retire, but she took an anti-inflammatory and was able to carry on. And it took her almost three hours, but perennial giant-killer Sorana Cirstea was at it again--this time taking out 4th seed Elena Rybakina. The 33-year-old Romanian has won only two tournaments, yet--over and over--she has upset the biggest names at majors. 

Top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek has lost nine games so far, and the scoreline for two of her matches was 6-0, 6-1.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Alona Ostapenko (20)
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Coco Gauff (6)
Sorana Cirstea (30) vs. Belinda Bencic (15)
Karolina Muchova (10) vs. Wang Xinyu
Peyton Stearns vs. Marketa Vondrousova (9)
Madison Keys (17) vs. Jessica Pegula (3)
Ons Jabeur (5) vs. Zheng Qinwen (23)
Daria Kasatkina (13) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Wang's and Zheng's place in the draw marks the first time that two Chinese women have ever advanced to the round of 16 at the U.S. Open.