Muguruza, Halep take rare strong US Open runs into 4th round

  • Garbine Muguruza, of Spain, reacts after beating Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, during the third round of the US Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • Simona Halep, of Romania, reacts after defeating Elena Rybakina, of Kazakstan, during the third round of the US Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, returns a shot to Garbine Muguruza, of Spain, during the third round of the US Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • Elena Rybakina, of Kazakhstan, returns a shot to Simona Halep, of Romania, during the third round of the US Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Associated Press
Published: 9/3/2021 7:42:22 PM

NEW YORK — Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep have mastered the grass at Wimbledon and conquered the clay at the French Open.

Maybe they finally have the answers for the hard courts of the U.S. Open.

The two-time Grand Slam champions both pulled out three-set victories Friday to reach the fourth round of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

Muguruza beat three-time U.S. Open finalist Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 to match her best showing in New York.

The No. 9 seed from Spain reached the round of 16 in 2017, right after winning her Wimbledon title. She hadn’t been past the second round since, though said she’s always liked playing in New York despite her struggles.

“The past years I was very — in Spanish we say you’re a little bit cross, your brain is a little bit not working very well,” Muguruza said. “I felt, yeah, I don’t know, negativity was more than positivity in the previous years.

This year, I don’t know, I just prepared well and say, ‘Hey, at some point it’s going to change.’ This might be the year.”

Same for Halep, who fought through a marathon first-set tiebreaker and eventually beat Elena Rybakina 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 to reach the U.S. Open fourth round for the first time since 2016.

Daniil Medvedev had a much easier time, as he has the entire first week. The No. 2 seed and 2019 runner-up beat Pablo Andujar 6-0, 6-4, 6-3 and has dropped just 22 games in three rounds.

Both Muguruza and Halep have been finalists at the Australian Open, also played on a hard court. But the U.S. Open had proven a more difficult puzzle for both — more difficult than Halep even realized.

She said during her interview on the court after the match that it was good to be playing this late in the U.S. Open for the first time in three years. Her brother sent her a message saying it was actually two years longer.

“I correct it now,” she said during her news conference.

Halep had lost in the first round in both 2017 and 2018 — the latter the first time that had happened to the No. 1 seed in the first round at the U.S. Open — and her success this time was tough to expect after she missed Wimbledon and the French Open with a calf injury.

The No. 12 seed from Romania needed seven set points to finally win the tiebreaker — after she was broken at love when serving for the set at 6-5.

She eventually won it when the 19th-seeded Rybakina double-faulted, then worked her way to the round of 16 for the first time since reaching the quarterfinals in 2016.

“I know that every match is a battle,” Halep said. “But I’m there, and if I’m healthy, I’m confident that I can play my game.”

Muguruza will next play No. 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova, the French Open champion who is into the fourth round in her debut in the main draw of the U.S. Open.

In another matchup of women’s Grand Slam titlists, 2016 U.S. Open champion Angelique Kerber beat Sloane Stephens, the 2017 winner, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open title last year, was expected to be back on the court for the first time since the first night of the tournament to face Leylah Fernandez in a third-round evening match.

Osaka received a walkover into the third round when opponent Olga Danilovic withdrew Wednesday with a viral illness unrelated to COVID-19.




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