US Open: Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza battle it out to pre-quarters

Simona Halep was tested by Elena Rybakina in their third-round match at the US Open on Friday. The Romanian, seeded 12th, eventually prevailed 7-6(11), 4-6, 6-3 after two hours and 24 minutes of play.

Halep cut a worried figure as she stepped on to the court with a tape on her right thigh. She also had a slow start to the match even as her opponent raced through the blocks. As both players trade punishing groundstrokes, while Rybakina found it easy to hit winners, Halep’s errors mounted. An early break of serve helped the Kazakh take a 3-1 lead in the set but she wasn’t able to hold onto it for long and Halep levelled the set at three-all. Two games later, Halep found herself down another break and Rybakina served for the set in the ninth game but was broken back.

The 11th and 12th games saw an exchange of breaks that eventually led to the tie-break. In the tie-break, Halep had four set points but was thwarted on all four occasions. It was then Rybakina’s turn to bring up set points – four of them – but even she wasn’t able to convert any. The set finally went Halep’s way on her seventh match point helping her to take the lead in the match.

In the second set, Halep wasn’t able to carry through the momentum that’d carried her in the latter stages of the tie-break and quickly fell behind a double break. Rybakina’s lead didn’t extend for long and she conceded both breaks back. As in the first set, however, Halep lost her serve yet again. This time around, serving to take the match into the deciding set, Rybakina closed out the set without making any missteps.

US Open: Garbine Muguruza wins clash of former world no. 1s

The start of the final set was no different to the first two sets with Rybakina getting the break and taking the lead and then surrendering it back. However, unlike in the first two sets, Halep not only got the break back but also broke Rybakina to take a noticeable lead for the first time in the match. The two-time Major champion’s game also picked up pace as she struck winner after another even as Rybakina struggled with her shots. In the ninth game, Halep converted the win on the first of her three match points after Rybakina hit an unforced error off her forehand.

Halep had just 24 winners to the 19th seed’s 34 but also had 18 fewer unforced errors than the Kazakh’s 52. For a place in the fourth round, Halep will play either fifth seed Elina Svitolina or 25th seed Daria Kasatkina.

Meanwhile, in one of the most anticipated third-round match-ups, ninth seed Garbine Muguruza outlasted 18th seed Victoria Azarenka. The Spaniard won 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and 14 minutes, surviving an ebbing and flowing way of momentum. Muguruza finished the match with 34 winners to the Belarusian’s 23 and had just 24 unforced errors to her opponent’s 30. Azarenka’s serves proved to be the Achilles heel for her and she lost the match on a double fault while trying to stay in it in the eighth game of the third set.

Garbine Muguruza, meanwhile, will play either eighth seed Barbora Krejcikova or Kamila Rakhimova in the fourth round of the US Open. 

Photo Credit: Adam Glanzman/USTA