NEW YORK: Second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus swatted aside France’s Clara Burel to power into the last 16 of the US Open on Saturday.
Sabalenka — who defeated Burel in straight sets at the same stage of the tournament last year — once again had too much power for 62nd-ranked Burel, winning 6-1, 6-1 in a 60-minute masterclass.
The Belarusian right-hander will now face either Russian 13th seed Daria Kasatkina on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals. Kasatkina overcame Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen 6-3, 6-4 to reach the fourth round.
Sabalenka, who achieved a breakthrough maiden Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open earlier this year, could replace Poland’s Iga Swiatek at the top of the world rankings if she betters her rival’s performance in New York.
The 25-year-old from Minsk, beaten by Swiatek in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows last year, once again signalled she is ready for a deep run in the tournament with a clinical performance on Saturday.
The Belarusian’s reliable first serve and heavier groundstrokes overwhelmed Burel, whose own problems on serve were punished ruthlessly by Sabalenka.
Sabalenka sent down a stream of 21 winners to Burel’s six, breaking the French woman four times en route to a straightforward win.
On Friday, Novak Djokovic rallied from two sets down against compatriot Laslo Djere to avoid his earliest US Open exit since 2006 on Friday, while defending women’s champion Swiatek sailed into the fourth round of the year’s final Grand Slam as an American wave swept across Flushing Meadows.
On the ropes and reeling, a tenacious Djokovic lifted himself up off the floor, as he has done so many times before, to claim a 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 win over the 32nd-seeded Djere.
It marked the 38th time Djokovic has won a five-setter and kept alive the 36-year-old’s quest for a fourth U.S. Open crown that would pull him level with Margaret Court’s record haul of 24 Grand Slams.
The 36-year-old goes on to face 105th-ranked Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo for a spot in the quarter-finals.
While Djokovic needed almost four hours to get the job done, Swiatek needed only 49 minutes to book her spot.
The Pole showed her best friend on Tour Kaja Juvan no mercy, thrashing the Slovenian qualifier 6-0, 6-1.
Americans Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton all moved safely through to the last 16, raising hopes of a first homegrown men’s champion since Andy Roddick here in 2003.
Ninth seed Fritz crushed Czech qualifier Jakub Mensik 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 while Tiafoe, a semi-finalist last year, progressed with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) win over France’s Adrian Mannarino.
Fourteenth seed Paul overcame a third-set hiccup to dispatch Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-1, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 and will next face 20-year-old compatriot Shelton, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 winner over Aslan Karatsev.
Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker prolonged his breakout run by outlasting French wild card Benjamin Bonzi 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-2.
Rinky Hijikata’s improbable ride also continued as the Australian wildcard entrant reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over China’s Zhang Zhizhen.
It was not as productive a day for US women, with only Coco Gauff moving on, and the sixth seed needed to dig deep to keep from joining Jennifer Brady, Taylor Townsend and Bernarda Pera at the exit.
Coming off titles in Washington and Cincinnati, Gauff had to work hard to see off Belgium’s Elise Mertens 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 and book a fourth-round meeting with Caroline Wozniacki, who rallied to beat Brady 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Romania’s Sorana Cirstea defeated fourth seed and last year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-4. She will face Swiss 15th seed Belinda Bencic in the last 16.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2023