Three women, all Grand Slam champions, all veterans, all players who have been at the top of the game, are still trying to win their first U.S. Open title.
Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza all took another step in that direction again on Wednesday, winning matches that sent them into the third round.
Azarenka had to overcome a bit a resistance from unheralded Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 6-3, 7-6 (1). Muguruza had less to do in a 6-4, 6-2 win over Andrea Petkovic. Halep had less still in her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Kristina Kucova.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, has had the most success at the Open, reaching the final three times, losing to Naomi Osaka in 2020 and to Serena Williams in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka was the only player of the three to participate in last year’s Open played under strict COVID-19 protocols.
Azarenka’s match was a decent test, one against an opponent she knew little about and had to adapt to her game.
“I think that sometimes it’s a bit harder to judge when you play against somebody you don’t know and play on a big court,” Azarenka said of their match on Armstrong. “I felt that in the second set I had some opportunities that I didn’t close out, but, you know, she played a couple of pretty flashy moments. You know, she took her chances. It really felt like she played really loose today.”
Muguruza, the winner of the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon, has only made it as far at the fourth round at Flushing Meadows in eight attempts and this will be only the second time she has made the third round, where she will face off with Azarenka.
But first she had to get past Petkovic, a good friend on the other side of the net.
“I’m excited to be in third round. It’s very important for me,” Muguruza said. “It was just a weird match. I mean, Andrea and I, we have spent so many times, so many hours on court, so many hours on court together training. We know each other a lot. I just felt that it was difficult at some point to play, because, you get along well, but happy with my level.”
As for her progress at a tournament she hasn’t done well at, “I feel now I enjoy more to be here. I feel like I know more the surface. I know more how to manage, how to handle everything,” Muguruza said. “You know, just to reset every time I come here, just to be more positive . . . you can come one year and play well and finally break through that wall.”
Halep, the winner at Wimbledon in 2019 with a dominant performance in beating Williams, and the 2018 French Open champ, is just thankful to be healthy at the Open after suffering a left calf tear in May that knocked her out of competition until August.
She was also pretty happy that her match with Kucova was moved to Ashe Stadium from open-air Court 17 to replace Osaka’s match after her opponent, Olga Danilovic, withdrew. Playing under the roof at Ashe meant no interruptions from the rain.
“I think in life you cannot do much without luck,” Halep said. “I feel like I’m a lucky person, always have been. But you have also to work for what you want and what you desire. Then the luck, if you are positive, the luck comes next to you. Like today, I was positive and I was ready to play the second round. I was like very positive that I’m healthy and I can go on court 100%, and the court has changed and I could play without like stopping because of the rain.”