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Marquee matchups fill Saturday slate

The women’s top seed, Serena Williams, pulled double duty, starting with a 6-1, 6-0 victory in singles over fellow American Vania King.
By Mark Preston
Saturday, August 30, 2014

The courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are booked solid with marquee match-ups on Day 6 of the 2014 US Open. Today, Broadway takes a back seat to Flushing Meadows, as the big stages of the US Open host a variety of drama, intriguing storylines and riveting feature performances from a cast of remarkable stars, headlined by top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. Joining them on this blockbuster bill are Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, John Isner, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic, Flavia Pennetta and Sam Querrey. Today, both matinee and evening performances are can’t-miss theater. This is one limited run that promises unlimited excitement.

Men’s No. 1 Djokovic has cruised into the third round, losing just 11 games in his two matches—a solid start for a guy looking to play his way into his fifth consecutive US Open final. The 27-year-old Serb was particularly impressive in his second-round win over Paul-Henri Mathieu, winning 88 percent of first-serve points, serving up 13 aces and blasting 33 winners against just 16 unforced errors. He’s now reached at least the third round in 25 consecutive Grand Slam events. The 2011 US Open champion won his seventh career major this summer at Wimbledon, one of four titles he’s claimed on the year. The top seed today takes on Querrey, who may well be playing his best tennis of the year right now. The big-hitting, 26-year-old American packs quite a punch, but his career has been staggered by a series of injuries that have knocked him back on his heels. To his credit, Querrey is a fighter, and though he’s currently ranked No. 57, he’s a legitimate Top 20 talent, having ranked as high as No. 17. This should be a good test for both men and a chance for Querrey to get an accurate gauge of his game as compared to one of the game’s greats. The American—with 46 aces in two matches—will no doubt come out firing, but Djokovic has too much game to provide an easy target. The Serb leads their career meetings 7-1 and figures to extend that edge today. In an entertaining three, the top seed advances.

Like Djokovic, Williams is off to a flying start here in Flushing, winning her first two rounds in dominating fashion, dropping just five games in two matches. The biggest talent in the women’s game has thus far come up short at the majors this year. In fact, the 17-time Grand Slam singles champion has yet to advance as far as the quarters at any of the Slam season’s first three events. That annoying little tidbit is no doubt providing additional incentive to the two-time defending US Open champ, who’s looking to become the first woman to three-peat here since Chris Evert strung four titles together from 1975-78. Williams looks to take the next step toward that goal today against Varvara Lepchenko, the third American she’ll face here in three rounds. The 28-year-old Lepchenko was particularly impressive in her second-round win over Mona Barthel, winning 79 percent of her first-serve points and making just nine unforced errors to advance to this third round, matching her best career US Open showing. But it’ll be impossible for Lepchenko to match that effort against Williams, who owns a career 2-0 edge in their head-to-heads, spotting Lepchenko just six games in those two matches. Expect that trend to continue, as Williams moves on in straight sets, single-handedly eliminating 17.6 percent of the American contingent in the women’s draw.

With a nod to the incomparable Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again, as Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber meet in the third round of the US Open for the third year in a row. Isner, the No. 13 seed, and Kohlschreiber, seeded No. 22, have become familiar Flushing foes, with the German knocking out the American at this point in each of the last two years. Isner advanced to this meeting with a straight-sets win over Jan-Lennard Struff, a match in which the American banged 30 aces, adding to his tournament-leading total of 56. That’s an especially impressive mark, considering it goes along with just one double-fault to this point. In round two, Kohlschreiber was up a set on Michael Llodra, when the Frenchman was forced to retire with an elbow injury. Ironically, Isner leads their career meetings, 4-2, including a win on hard courts at the Auckland event in January. It’s only here that their battles have been one-sided, as the German has been able to blunt the American’s big deliveries and equal his firepower off the ground. Isner will have the crowd on his side, which may just help to make the third time a charm for him. In four tight sets, Isner, at long last, finishes first in Flushing.

Azarenka, a finalist here in each of the last two years and twice an Australian Open champion, has struggled with foot and knee injuries this season, and as a result, the former No. 1 has had a largely forgettable year. Since reaching the final in Brisbane and the quarters at the Australian Open in January, the 25-year-old Belarussian had won just one match in four tournaments before reaching the quarters in Montreal earlier this month, falling out of the Top 10 for the first time since 2010. Still, Azarenka looked to be in fine form in a straight-sets dismissal of Christina McHale in round two, hitting her shots with authority and moving well on the familiar floor of Ashe. Seeded 16th—her lowest-ever seed at this event—Azarenka knows she has the game to go deep in this draw. Her next test comes against Russian Elena Vesnina, whose appearance in this third round matches her best-ever US Open showing. The 28-year-old Vesnina showed a gritty game in toughing out a three-set win in round two but has never beaten Azarenka in five tries. In fact, Vesnina has yet to take a set off the former No. 1. The two-time Flushing finalist is motivated to finish this season with a flourish—and that’s bad news for the Russian. In two, Azarenka moves on.