Simona Halep battled to victory over Elena Rybakina in the third round of the US Open while last year’s finalist Victoria Azarenka was beaten by Garbine Muguruza
- Simona Halep managed to beat Elena Rybakina in the third round of the US Open
- She saved four set points in a remarkable first-set tie-break and finished strongly
- It ended 7-6 (11) 4-6 6-3, while last year’s finalist Azarenka lost to Muguruza
Simona Halep battled to victory over Elena Rybakina in the third round of the US Open but last year’s finalist Victoria Azarenka was beaten by Garbine Muguruza.
To have two such high-level encounters so early in the tournament highlights the depth of women’s tennis, and both lived up to their billing.
Halep’s season has been blighted by injuries, and the Romanian is playing with heavy strapping on her right thigh, but she saved four set points in a remarkable first-set tie-break and finished strongly for a 7-6 (11) 4-6 6-3 victory.
Simona Halep (above) emerged victorious in the third round of the US Open on Friday
Halep, who was down an early break in all three sets, said: ‘Before the match, I was super stressed and I told (coach) Darren (Cahill) that my forehand is lost. So I cannot feel it anymore.
‘I had emotions. I was nervous. And I was crazy a little bit on court, as well, the frustrations got me a little bit. But I fought, and this victory gives me a lot of confidence that my game is coming back and also the fighting spirit is there.
‘So I feel safer on court when I step now. I know that every match is a battle but I’m there and, if I’m healthy, I’m confident that I can play my game.’
Last year’s tournament marked the return of Azarenka as a grand slam force, with the former world number one defeating Serena Williams before losing to Naomi Osaka in the final.
She beat Elena Rybakina (above) 7-6 (11) 4-6 6-3 despite playing with strapping on her thigh
But ninth seed Muguruza proved too strong here, the Spaniard prevailing 6-4 3-6 6-2 to set up another blockbuster clash against French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.
Halep said with a smile: ‘Actually last night at dinner we were looking at the schedule, and I was, like, ‘Every match is a semi-final’.
‘The level is super high, and now you cannot expect some players to win. I gave up thinking who is going to be in the semis and finals, because I like to discuss these things. The matches are great, in my opinion, for everybody.’
Krejcikova, whose rise has been so rapid that this is her main draw debut in New York, was a comfortable 6-4 6-2 winner over Kamilla Rakhimova.
Another big-name encounter saw two former champions meet, with Angelique Kerber continuing her resurgent summer by seeing off Sloane Stephens 5-7 6-2 6-3.
A day after cheering on husband Gael Monfils to a second-round win, fifth seed Elina Svitolina made it through to round four with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina.
Evans – who dominated the eventual tie-break – was incredibly emotional after the final point of the match.
The 31-year-old was seen crouching down on the court, holding his head in disbelief, before fist pumping the air with delight.
Despite his excitement over the result, Evans headed to the net to comfort Popyrin – who was later seen hiding his face in his towel as his emotions started to pour out.
Meanwhile last year’s finalist Victoria Azarenka (above) was beaten by Garbine Muguruza.
Evans struggled with his Grand Slam form this season – having been knocked out in the first round of both the Australian and French Open.
He also reached the third round at Wimbledon, before being knocked out by Sebastian Korda.
Evans did, however, win his first ATP Tour title in January but contracted coronavirus shortly after the tournament.
Having picked up the virus in July, Evans missed the Tokyo Olympic Games and worried that he would never regain the fitness required to stay competitive at the top of the sport.
Therefore, the result against Popyrin meant even more to the 31-year-old. Speaking after his victory, Evans said: ‘I am just happy. I want to lie down.’
He went on to explain his mindset during the game by saying: ‘At Wimbledon I was poor in the third round.
‘So my focus was to put in a good performance in the third round here when I got here. I could have lost this match pretty easily. I’m proud of what I’ve done here.’
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