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Muguruza, Halep lead blitz from top women on rainy US Open Day 3
The top seeds held to form—and did so quickly—as stormy weather threatened multiple delays.
Published Sep 01, 2021
WATCH: Learn more about Naomi Osaka, who advanced without striking a ball earlier this morning.
NEW YORK—The uncertain forecast and unfriendly skies hanging over Day 3 of the 2021 US Open meant there would be no time for Tuesday’s marathons. Match management would suddenly become top priority, particularly for those scheduled on courts lacking the rain-repelling roofs on Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums.
Make the most of clear-weather windows and put yourself well ahead of your potentially drenched peers, as an on-fire No. 20 seed Ons Jabeur did with her 53-minute drubbing of Colombia’s María Camila Osorio Serrano, 6-0, 6-1. Take too long and you could wind up like Elise Mertens, sent off court a game from victory against Greek qualifier Valentini Grammatikopolou. Luckily for the Belgian, the weather abated long enough to allow her to clinch a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline.
Overall, the top women have been up for the challenge of playing efficient tennis, always of paramount importance during the first week of a major. Defending champion Naomi Osaka was arguably the most efficient of them all, advancing without having to hit a ball when Olga Danilovic withdrew due to a non-COVID related viral illness.
Even without the rain-induced time crunch, the stadium stars made relatively quick work of their opposition to start the afternoon, each advancing in straight sets. Here’s how they did it:
68 min:  Simona Halep d. Kristina Kucova, 6-3, 6-1
Sometimes it takes a bit of luck, and Simona Halep took full advantage after Osaka’s walkover meant her Court 17 clash with Kucova was rescheduled inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I think in life you cannot do much without luck,” she mused in her post-match press conference. “I feel like I'm a lucky person, always have been. But you have also to work for what you want and what you desire. Then the luck, if you are positive, the luck comes next to you.
"Like today, I was positive and I was ready to play the second round. I was like very positive that I'm healthy and I can go on court 100%, and the court has changed and I could play without like stopping because of the rain!”
Luck hasn’t necessarily been on the Romanian’s side in 2021; after all, a calf tear ruled her out of two major tournaments and prevented her from mounting a proper title defense at Wimbledon. Nor has she been especially lucky at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center; in her last four appearances in Queens, she has drawn first-round opponents like Maria Sharapova, not to mention perennial giant-killers Kaia Kanepi and Camila Giorgi.
At last feeling healthy, Halep weathered a metaphorical storm over Giorgi, the Omnium Banque Nationale champion, and hardly broke a sweat against Kristina Kucova, a dangerous opponent who held match points on world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in Miami.
“She was not hitting that strong as the first opponent, so it was a different game,” Halep explained. “But I'm really happy that I could hit the ball strong, I could move very well, and I had confidence, even if I felt the pressure a little bit of playing on Arthur Ashe.”
Halep could next face another strong hitter in Elena Rybakina; the two played an insta-classic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2020, and the No. 12 seed relishes the rematch—provided it can go as quickly as her last two wins.
“I know it's going to be a big challenge for me. She's playing, she has played a lot this year, and also, she has confidence. She's very young so has nothing to lose, but I'm also coming after injury, so I'm here just to take as it is and give myself a chance to believe that there is always possible to win a match.”
If there’s any more luck up for grabs, Halep will happily take it.
89 min:  Garbiñe Muguruza d. Andrea Petkovic, 6-4, 6-2
Muguruza began action on Louis Armstrong Stadium as scheduled, albeit with the more daunting task of taking a nemesis in a former world No. 9.
Petkovic came into Wednesday’s encounter with the confidence of having won her first WTA title in six years at Cluj-Napoca, the support from reuniting with longtime coach Petar Popvic—and the knowledge that she had never lost to Muguruza in three previous attempts.
All three matches, however, came before the Spaniard went on to win her two major titles and become world No. 1, a reality Muguruza drove home throughout this decidedly straightforward contest.
“It was just a weird match,” Muguruza said in press. “I mean, Andrea and I, we have spent so many times, so many hours on court, so many hours on court together training. We know each other a lot. She’s one of the nicest people on tour.
“I just felt that it was difficult at some point to play, because, you get along well, but happy with my level. I think I played a very solid match from the beginning until the end.”
Striking 21 winners to just 14 unforced errors, Muguruza bent but never broke as Petkovic regularly threatened to make things complicated. Showing some of the form that helped her dominate the first quarter of the season, she ultimately eased over the finish line to book a blockbuster third-rounder with Victoria Azarenka (more on that later).
Should Muguruza continue at this rate, she should easily score only her second fourth-round appearance in Flushing Meadows.
“I'm so looking forward for those type of matches," the Spaniard said. "I think I had two tough matches now, and if I have to play her it's going to be another one. I think that's the best, just to go out there and play with people that are top level.”
105 minutes:  Victoria Azarenka d. Jasmine Paolini, 6-3, 7-6 (1)
Speaking of Azarenka, though she played the longest match of the trio, she proved herself most efficient when it mattered, blitzing her inspired Italian opponent in a scintillating second-set tibreaker Death to secure the meeting with Muguruza.
The Belarusian has largely stabilized after a rocky start to 2021, posting solid results in Montréal and Cincinnati despite less-than-competitive defeats to countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka in the former and eventual champion Barty in the latter.
Still, if her surprise run to last year’s final is any indication, Azarenka has long proven to have a high ceiling, and she showed a willingness to move throughout the afternoon on Armstrong, winning all 15 approaches to net.
More about the marquee match-up: After playing two unforgettable tiebreakers at the 2016 Miami Open, the head-to-head has swung towards Muguruza, most notably with a three-set thriller in Rome last fall. In a battle between two top players, however, consider the surface: few have been stronger on hard courts in the last decade than Vika, setting the stage for a match that ideally stretches well past the two-hour mark.