Monday, September 7, 2020

Mamma mia: Serena, Pironkova, Vika reach quarters

Serena Williams avenged a loss to Maria Sakkari two weeks ago
in the Western & Southern Open. File photo by Paul Bauman 
   Two mothers in their 30s will meet in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Wednesday.
   One of them was expected, the other far from it. 
   Third-seeded Serena Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, defeated 15th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 today in the fourth round in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Tsvetana Pironkova, a 32-year-old Bulgarian, beat Alize Cornet of France 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in a matchup of unseeded players. Pironkova is playing in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017 after starting a family.
   A third mother in her 30s, unseeded Victoria Azarenka, topped 20th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Muchova, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year, appeared on the verge of retiring with a hamstring injury early in the third set.
   It's the first time that three mothers have advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
   Williams overcame a 0-2 deficit in the third set to even her record against Sakkari at 1-1. Sakkari beat Williams 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the third round of the Western & Southern Open two weeks ago in Flushing Meadows.
   Williams won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles in 2014. She has reached the last two U.S. Open finals, losing to upstarts Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu in straight sets in an attempt to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. That quest continues.
   Sakkari, the runner-up in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, was trying to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Williams — who won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014 — is 4-0 against Pironkova. Williams won the last encounter 7-5, 6-3 in the second round in Cincinnati in 2015. Three weeks later, the top-ranked Williams lost to No. 43 Roberta Vinci of Italy in one of the biggest upsets in sports history while trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. 
   Azarenka, 31, extended her winning streak to 10 matches, including a walkover in the final of the Western & Southern Open, after going 0-3 since August 2019. She won the Bank of the West Classic 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012.
   Azarenka will face 16th-seeded Elise Mertens, 24, of Belgium for the first time in the quarters. Mertens, a semifinalist in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, dominated second-seeded Sofia Kenin of the United States 6-3, 6-3.
   Kenin won Northern California Challengers in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018 and stormed to her first Grand Slam title in the Australian Open in January.
   In the men's draw, second-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria eliminated 15th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 20-year-old Canadian, 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1.
   Thiem, a three-time runner-up in Grand Slam tournaments, is set to play 21st-seeded Alex de Minaur on Wednesday. The 21-year-old Australian beat unseeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 to reach his first major quarterfinal.
   Pospisil won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014 with American Jack Sock, advanced to the singles final in the 2017 San Francisco Challenger and underwent back surgery in January 2019.
   Thiem, 26, is 2-0 against de Minaur, including a straight-set victory in the first round of the 2017 U.S. Open.
   The other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the draw will be an all-Russian affair. 
   Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, dismissed the last remaining U.S. man, unseeded Frances Tiafoe, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Medvedev, 24, has not lost more than four games in a set in four tournament matches.
   Tiafoe won the 2016 Stockton, Calif., Challenger at 18 years old to crack the top 100 and climbed to a career-high No. 29 in February 2019. He will rise 16 places to No. 66 after the U.S. Open.
   Tenth-seeded Andrey Rublev outplayed sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, a semifinalist in last year's U.S. Open, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
   Rublev, 22, avenged a straight-set loss to the 24-year-old Italian in the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows in 2019 and reached his second Grand Slam quarterfinal. He also advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2017 U.S. Open at 19 before missing three months in 2018 with a lower-back stress fracture and six weeks in 2019 with a wrist injury.
   Medvedev has not lost a set in three career matches against Rublev.
   Barty out of French Open — Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty announced on Instagram that she will not defend her French Open title.
   The 24-year-old Australian cited coronavirus concerns and inadequate preparation. The French Open, normally held in late May and early June, was moved to Sept. 27-Oct. 11 because of the pandemic.
   "It has been a difficult decision to make but unfortunately I will not be competing in Europe this year," Barty wrote. "Last year's French Open was the most special tournament of my career so this is not a decision I have made lightly. There are two reasons for my decision. The first is the health risks that still exist with Covid. The second is my preparation, which has not been ideal without my coach being able to train with me due to the state border closures in Australia."
   Barty, who also skipped the U.S. Open, said she will not play again this year.

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