Thursday, September 3, 2020

In her first event in 3 years, Pironkova stuns Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza has played in the final of every Grand Slam tournament
except the U.S. Open. The former world No. 1 has never reached the quarter-
finals in Flushing Meadows. 2017 photo by Mal Taam
   Tsvetana Pironkova wanted to see if she still had it.
   Apparently, she does.
   Playing in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017, the unranked Pironkova shocked 10th-seeded Garbine Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, 7-5, 6-3 today in the second round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Pironkova, who climbed to a career-high No. 31 shortly after reaching the Wimbledon semifinals 10 years ago, missed the competition after leaving to start a family. She took advantage of a new WTA rule allowing new mothers to play 12 tournaments, including two Grand Slams, with their ranking when they stopped competing.
   "I was really curious what my level is at the moment," the 32-year-old Bulgarian said after dismissing Liudmila Samsonova of Russia 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday in the first round. "I was really curious to see if my preparation was adequate and could yield good results. I'm happy to see I did the right things. I wanted to see if I still have it."
   Muguruza has played in the final of the three other Grand Slam tournaments, winning Wimbledon and the French Open, but the former world No. 1 has never advanced to the U.S. Open quarterfinals. In the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, she reached the semifinals in 2017 and quarterfinals in 2014 and won the doubles title in 2014 with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. 
   Suarez Navarro, Muguruza's close friend who turned 32 today, revealed Tuesday that she has Hodgkin lymphoma. 
   Pironkova next will meet 18th-seeded Donna Vekic of Croatia. Vekic advanced to the semifinals of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., and quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last summer.
   Later today in the Battle of Belarus, Victoria Azarenka extended her winning streak to eight matches with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in 67 minutes.
   The resurgent Azarenka, another former No. 1, won last week's Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the final because of a hamstring injury.
   Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother, won the Bank of the West Classic 10 years ago and reached the U.S. Open final in 2012 and 2013, falling to Williams each time.
   Sabalenka last year advanced to the San Jose final, losing to China's Zheng Saisai, and won the U.S. Open doubles title with Elise Mertens of Belgium.
   Sorana Cirstea of Romania surprised ninth-seeded Johanna Konta, who won the first of her three WTA singles titles at Stanford in 2016.
   No. 26 seed Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, outclassed Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-2, 6-2 in 66 minutes. 
   Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product now based in Florida, has not lost more than three games in a set in her two matches this week. She was 1-7 this year entering the U.S. Open.
   Stephens will face third-seeded Serena Williams, who won the last of her six U.S. Open titles in 2014, on Saturday. Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, beat Margarita Gasparyan of Russia 6-2, 6-4 in the first featured night match. 
   Williams is 5-1 against Stephens, but they have not met in five years. Stephens' victory came in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open at age 19.
   In the men's draw, Vasek Pospisil eliminated 25th-seeded Milos Raonic, the Wimbledon runner-up to Andy Murray in 2016, 6-7 (1), 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in a matchup of injury-plagued Canadians. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Raonic hammered 29 aces, and the 6-foot-4 Pospisil had 20. 
   Pospisil, ranked No. 94 after reaching a career-high No. 25 in 2014, had back surgery in January 2019 and missed the first six months of the season. He reached the final of the $100,000 San Francisco Challenger in 2017, losing to China's Ze Zhang.
   Raonic won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose. He never lost a set in the tournament, winning the last three titles (2011, 2012 and 2013).
   In the second featured night match, 15th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada dominated 33-year-old Andy Murray, who won the first of his three Grand Slam singles titles in the 2012 U.S. Open, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
   Murray, who had right hip surgery in January 2018 and January 2019, was coming off a stirring five-set victory over Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan on Tuesday. Murray prevailed in 4 hours, 39 minutes, overcoming a two-sets-to-none deficit and saving a match point.
   Murray also never lost in the SAP Open, winning the first of his 46 singles titles in San Jose in 2006 at age 18 and repeated the following year.

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