New York (AFP): Novak Djokovic sailed into the US Open third round Wednesday in his quest for a 24th Grand Slam triumph as Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff stayed on a quarter-final collision course in New York. Djokovic climbed through the gears against 76th-ranked Bernabe Zapata Miralles, winning 13 of the last 15 games to ease through 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
“At 36 years of age, after 20 years of coming to New York, I still have the hunger to play my best tennis on this court,” said Djokovic, a three-time US Open champion. Next up for the Serbian star is compatriot and 32nd seed Laslo Djere after Djokovic preserved his record of always reaching at least the last 32 in New York.
“I’m pleased with the way I’m feeling, playing on the court,” said Djokovic, who missed last year’s tournament due to his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19. “Can always be better, but first two rounds didn’t spend too much time on the court and played very solid and hopefully I can keep building.”
Women’s defending champion and world number one Swiatek swept past Australia’s Daria Saville 6-3, 6-4. The Pole is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend her US Open crown since Serena Williams won a hat-trick of titles from 2012-2014.
“It wasn’t easy but I’m happy I tried to play my game and play aggressively with a lot of intensity and I’m just happy to be in the third round,” said Swiatek, aiming for her fifth Grand Slam triumph. Swiatek will now play Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan on Friday for a place in the last 16.
Gauff, 19, brushed aside 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, the youngest player in the draw, 6-3, 6-2 to continue her strong run on hard courts this summer after titles in Washington and Cincinnati.
The sixth seed, viewed as one of the favourites in New York, takes on Belgium’s Elise Mertens for a place in the last 16 after getting the better of Andreeva for the second time in three Grand Slams.
“I just learned to be aggressive, because if you give her something she is going to take advantage,” said Gauff, who overcame Andreeva in three sets at Roland Garros in June. “She has a great future in front of her – I think she is going to be back on this stage many more times.” Mertens, the 32nd seed, battled back from the brink by saving two match points in the second-set tie-break to knock off Collins 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-1.
Zhang Zhizhen made history as the first Chinese man to defeat a top-five player, dumping out last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud in five sets.
The 67th-ranked Zhang avenged his loss to the Norwegian fifth seed at the French Open, where he also reached the third round, advancing 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2. Zhang, 26, will next play Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata. No Chinese man has made the fourth round of a Grand Slam in the Open era. Ruud’s exit left just two other top-10 seeds in Djokovic’s half of the draw after Stefanos Tsitsipas’ US Open misery continued. The Greek crashed out to 128th-ranked Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker in five sets, and has still not gone beyond round three in six visits to New York.
Tsitsipas served for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set but the 21-year-old Stricker rallied to prevail 7-5, 6-7 (2/7), 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 in just over four hours. Dominic Thiem, plagued by injury since his 2020 US Open victory, retired early in the second set against Ben Shelton after losing a tie-break. Frances Tiafoe, a semi-finalist last year, barged past Austria’s Sebastian Ofner 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 and 14th seed Tommy Paul recovered from two sets down to outlast Russia’s Roman Safiullin.
Ninth seed Taylor Fritz routed Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas as 17-year-old Czech qualifier Jakub Mensik, ranked 206th, became the youngest man to reach the third round here since 1990.
Two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki prolonged her US Open comeback by bundling out 11th seed Petra Kvitova 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) — her first win over a top-20 player since the 2018 WTA Tour Finals.
“If you’d asked to me three years ago I’d have said, I’ll never be back here playing on this court,” said mother-of-two Wozniacki, playing her first Grand Slam since the 2020 Australian Open.
“But to be back and to beat to the world number 11 feels very, very special.”
Elena Rybakina, seeded fourth, received a walkover when Australian Ajla Tomljanovic withdrew from their night session clash because of injury.
Czech 10th seed and French Open finalist Karolina Muchova sailed past Magdalena Frech.
Meanwhile, former Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady — sidelined for two years by injury — took down 24th seed Magda Linette.