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Sabalenka overpowers as cull of top seeds continues

By Reuters - Sep 02,2018 - Last updated at Sep 02,2018

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates after match point against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the third round on day six of the US Open in New York City on Saturday (Reuters photo by Geoff Burke)

NEW YORK — Fifth seed Petra Kvitova became the latest big name in the women’s draw to crash out of the US Open when she lost to Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 6-1 at the Louis Armstrong Stadium on Saturday.

The exit of the Czech, who reached last year’s quarter-finals, leaves only three of the top 10 women’s players in the running, with defending champion and World No. 3 Sloane Stephens the highest ranked player left in the draw.

Kvitova beat Sabalenka in three sets at the Miami Open earlier this year, but the often error-prone 20-year-old Belarusian showed she had tightened up her game considerably since that encounter.

Sabalenka made 15 unforced errors to Kvitova’s 35 and won 80 per cent of her first serves as she wrapped up the victory in one hour and 25 minutes.

She overpowered the twice Wimbledon champion from the back of the court too, winning 49 points from the baseline compared to Kvitova’s 27.

“I really like to play on the big stages,” Sabalenka said courtside. 

“I really like to feel the support of the people. I didn’t expect anything, I just went on the court and tried for every point and now I’m so happy.

“I think I put more balls in [than I did in Miami]. It’s enough.”

Kvitova’s defeat capped a bad day for the top seeds at Flushing Meadows with fourth seed Angelique Kerber, sixth seed Caroline Garcia of France and 10th seeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko all failing to progress.

The quartet’s exit follows that of top seed Simona Halep in the first round and second seed Caroline Wozniacki in round two.

Maria Sharapova continued to enjoy working the US Open night shift with a 6-3, 6-2 humbling of 10th seeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko on Saturday, improving her record to 22-0 under the Arthur Ashe Stadium floodlights.

There is no denying Sharapova’s love for the big stage or the New York crowd’s love for her and the five-time Grand Slam champion admitted that she feeds off the buzz.

“It’s the energy you get, no doubt I feed off this energy,” said Sharapova, who used that inspiration to carry her to victory at the 2006 US Open. 

“I don’t remember how old I was when I played my first night match, but I’m sure I was young enough to still be intimidated by the city and the lights and the atmosphere, the noise.

“But I really turned that around. I think I thrive on that. 

“I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard. I thrive on playing under the lights for some reason. I love that.”

Even if the match was played at night there was no masking the poor quality of the opening set that featured four breaks of serve.

Ostapenko, who was the runaway leader in double faults at this year’s final Grand Slam, had three alone in her opening service game but was not punished for her sloppiness with Sharapova unable to convert any of five break chances.

Eventually Sharapova would cash in on Ostapenko’s generosity with the Latvian offering up 11 break opportunities and the Russian converting three — more than enough to take the first set.

“First game was a tricky game,” said Ostapenko, who had 41 unforced errors to go along with six double faults. “But then I served two good serves on deuce. I won that game. 

“Then everything went just not my way. I was making so many unforced errors. 

“With that level, it was tough to beat Maria.”

The nightmare serving continued into the second set with four consecutive breaks before Sharapova finally managed a hold for 3-2.

Ostapenko, however, would not manage to hold her serve at any point in the set and Sharapova broke the 2017 French Open champion twice more to clinch the victory.

The 31-year-old will meet Suarez Navarro in the last 16.

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