Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
For all the talk of a big three in the women’s game, doubts remain about each of them when it comes to this year’s Wimbledon. World No. 1 Iga Swiatek looked the most solid, her 6-2, 7-5 third round win over Petra Martic on Friday was tougher than the score seemed, but still comfortable. But Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka have both shown vulnerability and left the door open for others to come through.
Rybakina, the defending champion, dropped a set in her opening match against Shelby Rogers and struggled much of the second set against Alizé Cornet in round two. Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, crossed her opener but lost the first set on Friday in her second-round bout with Varvara Gracheva, a Russian who has changed her nationality to French. Both will play in the third round on Saturday.
Swiatek, who took her grand slam total to four by winning the French Open last month, is now just one win away from reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon for the first time. The Pole, a former junior champion here, was pushed hard by world number 29 Martic, but came through unscathed, despite a late wobble in the second set when, after taking match point on the Martic serve at 5-3 held, lost 10 straight points. But she responded well, broke again and then served for the win the second time she asked. Then she will play against the Swiss Belinda Bencic. “It wasn’t easy,” Swiatek said. “Petra played really well. I’m happy with my performance, I feel like I’m doing well on grass, that’s the most important thing for me.”
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For a set and a half, Sabalenka looked all out to sea against Gracheva, unable to find her game. Some of her serves were miles off target, a throwback to the yips that hit her game a few years back. But she recovered to win 2-6, 7-5, 6-2. “I wasn’t playing my best tennis, it was a really crazy, crazy experience,” she said. “Then I changed my strings, adjusted my playing a little bit, started to feel better on the track. I kept telling myself, keep fighting, keep trying and probably you can turn this game around.
At one point in the second set, Sabalenka was so distraught that she let out a huge scream. If it wasn’t quite Serena Williams’ roar, it had a similar effect. “I was a little crazy at the time,” she admitted. “I mean, I can’t throw my racquet on the grass, so I felt like I had to at least scream, get rid of it a little bit. After that I felt a little better. I felt a little relief inside. I felt like I was starting to think a little bit better.
Sabalenka’s third round opponent is Anna Blinkova, but there are bigger hazards in her half, including Ons Jabeur and Madison Keys, who both won on Friday, and the two-time champion, Petra Kvitova, who entered the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Sasnovich beat Kvitova in the first round here in 2018, a match that epitomized the nerve problems the Czech had at Wimbledon, despite her two title wins, in 2011 and 2014. “I’m probably more relaxed at other grand slams than here. ”, said the 33-year-old, who now plays the Serbian qualifier, Natalija Stevanovic. “Every time I’m here, I also try to be relaxed. Not easy. I try every time. I’m still getting older and older. Still with the experience I’m trying to figure out what I can do new, what not. It’s going well so far, so we’ll see.”
Elina Svitolina continued her amazing comeback after the birth of her first child as she defeated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 7-6 (3), 6-2. She will play against Victoria Azarenka in the last 16 on Sunday, after the Belarusian defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-4. “I just enjoy it, I think,” Svitolina said. “I really appreciate every moment I’m on the field.”
And there was a piece of history too, when Lesia Tsurenko defeated Ana Bogdan 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (18), the 20-18 final-set tie-break, the longest in grand slams history for women’s singles.