NEW YORK (AP) – Like so many other people, Serena Williams’ last game at the US Open was go-to TV for players still in the tournament, so Jessica Pegula and Petra Kvitova tuned in from their hotel room the night before their wins kicked off Saturday’s schedule and set up a fourth-round showdown.
“Of course I watched Serena. I’m like everyone else,” said Pegula, a 28-year-old American who was seeded No. 8 at Flushing Meadows and beat qualifier Yuan Yue 6-2, 6- 7 (6), 6-0. “You feel a little sad, that’s how it ends. But, I don’t know, like I’m getting a little sentimental too watching her, how much she became emotional.
Kvitova, the Czech Republic’s two-time Wimbledon champion, credited Williams’ last fight – the owner of 23 Grand Slam titles fended off five match points before retiring in three sets against Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night in what should be she final contest – with offer inspiration.
“It was very special. She didn’t want to leave the court, that’s for sure. It was the same with me today, actually. I didn’t want to get out of this tournament, so I was right there , sort of,” said Kvitova, who erased deficit after deficit, including a pair of match points, to edge Garbiñe Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10).
“That’s what Serena showed last night,” said Kvitova, who dropped her racquet and covered her face with her extremities when what she called a “nightmare” of a broken racket. tie was over. “It was nice to see her yesterday, fighting until the end.”
Yes, Williams is gone, leaving the last major tournament of the year – and, in some ways, the sport as a whole – without its biggest star and storyline. Still, the show must go on.
So there was Kvitova, fearless as always, despite dropping out of the first set, despite trailing 5-2 in the third, despite being one point away from defeat twice at 6-5.
Here’s how close this one was: Kvitova won 109 points overall, Muguruza 108.
“Leave everything on the pitch today,” said Muguruza, No.9, a two-time Slam winner whose departure means the group is without six of the top 10 women entering in the fourth round.
No. 1 Iga Swiatek advanced beating Lauren Davis 6-3, 6-4 and No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka beat Clara Burel 6-0, 6-2.
During the night session at Ashe, 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal improved his career mark against Richard Gasquet to 18-0 with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 win. Nadal has won the first nine games and was on course to improve to 22-0 in Grand Slam matches in 2022.
Nadal had no stitches or bandages on his nose, two days after accidentally cutting it with his racquet in his previous win.
“A bit more bgger than usual, but that’s okay,” he said with a smile. “The nose is still there.”
Nadal’s victory was followed by Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins against Alizé Cornet.
On Monday, Nadal will face No. 22 Frances Tiafoe, the first American since Mardy Fish in 2010-12 to advance to the fourth round of the US Open in three consecutive years. Tiafoe knocked out No. 14 Diego Schwartzman 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-4.
It was going to be tough for any of the day’s games to live up to the kind of attention Williams garnered, or the atmosphere she helped create, during her three-game run at Ashe.
“I can’t believe ‘Serena’s era’ on the tennis court is over,” Pegula said. “I mean, it’s just hard to imagine tennis without her.”
In other action on Saturday, two-time Australian Open champion Viktoria Azarenka won 6-3, 6-0 over Petra Martic; two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova beat Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic 5-7, 6-4, 6-3; No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, beat Jenson Brooksby, a 21-year-old Californian, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; No. 7 Cam Norrie beat No. 28 Holger Rune 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 in the men’s draw; No. 9 Andrey Rublev beat No. 19 Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (10-7); and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic beat No. 20 Dan Evans 7-6 (11), 6-7 (3); 6-2, 7-5. Upcoming matches include Azarenka vs. Bencic; Alcaraz versus Cilic and Norrie versus Rublev.
As for Kvitova-Muguruza, Rublev-Shapovalov demanded the new final set tiebreaker format to determine the winner. The four Grand Slam tournaments have agreed to adopt a uniform system this year, with the women’s third rounds of matches and the men’s fifth rounds decided by a first-to-10, win-by-two formula; the US Open used to have the more traditional first-to-seven setup.
Pegula’s dominance in her last set made that sort of thing totally unnecessary. She had lost a chance to close out the win half an hour earlier when she was unable to convert her match point, but quickly regrouped.
Pegula started his Grand Slam career by going 3-8. She’s gone 22-7 since, including the quarter-finals at the Australian Open each of the past two years and the French Open this year.
The 28-year-old American, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, entered Saturday with an 0-2 record in third-round games at Flushing Meadows, including a loss against Kvitova in 2020.
Pegula gets shot again on Monday.
“Petra is so difficult to play. I feel like when it’s on, it knocks you off the pitch. And then sometimes she can go away. .. She’s a fighter. When it clicks, it’s really tough,” Pegula said, adding, “I think I’m a much better player now than I was when I played her last time.”
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