Sabalenka overpowers shaky Zheng in US Open quarterfinals

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

The main issue for Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday at the US Open may be that the match was too easy for her early on against China’s Zheng Qinwen. Sabalenka jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set in just 19 minutes en route to a 6-1 6-4 victory. Sabalenka had to know the US Open quarterfinals should not be that easy.

Zheng looked nervous, too. The 20-year-old in the biggest match of her life didn’t come out flat but appeared very tight. She was more afraid to make a mistake than to let herself hit away. Zheng does have an excellent forehand and is going to be a dangerous player on the WTA tour likely for years to come. But she didn’t trust herself at the beginning of the match.

By the time Zheng started to find herself, she was buried in a first-set avalanche by well-paced and well-placed Sabalenka shots. The Belarusian was hitting the ball deep onto Zheng’s side while Sabalenka was able to cheat in on short Zheng shots. Sabalenka finished by winning 88 percent of her first serves and 68 percent of her second serves along with 17 winners. It was a perfect storm of awfulness for Zheng.

Aryna Sabalenka cruises to the semifinals of the US Open

But then Zheng did start to play better. Sabalenka hasn’t had any issues in any matches during her current US Open run. She hadn’t lost more than 3 games in any set in four matches. She didn’t look like she would lose more than 3 games total against Zheng the way the match began, but maybe Sabalenka is fortunate the second set was tighter. She probably needs to be tested a bit more heading into the semifinals.

Sabalenka could be on the verge of holding the top ranking on the WTA tour for some time. She has more firepower than Iga Swiatek who she will claim the top ranking from when the new rankings come out next week. She also appears to be energized by her new stature as she has obliterated the competition in the final major of the year. Should Sabalenka win the US Open, she will claim her second Grand Slam of 2023 after winning the Australian Open in January.

She also takes advantage when she smells the proverbial blood in the water. With the second set tied at 3, Zheng lost a little composure on her service game and Sabalenka attacked her groundstrokes with power from both the forehand and backhand and overpowered Zheng. Basically, she looked like the top-ranked player she is about to be.

Now, the question is whether we will see the matchup many want to see in the final: Aryna Sabalenka versus Coco Gauff. Both players strike the ball with pace and both could be battling for the top ranking for a few years, along with Swiatek. The winner of a Gauff versus Sabalenka US Open could decide the future of women’s tennis for the next year or three.

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