US Open 2017

US Open 2017: Karolina Pliskova saves match point to keep alive No1 hopes – but Muguruza maintains pressure

Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza are the last remaining women battling it out for the number one ranking at the US Open

And then there were three.

At the start of the US Open, world No2 Simona Halep had been challenging for the No1 ranking against a slew of women since the start of the clay swing, and finally the US Open looked like her chance to succeed. After all, she trailed Karolina Pliskova by just five points, and the tall Czech had to forego runner-up points at this year’s US Open.

On the live rankings, she arrived in New York ahead of Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. All of them had to go deep into the draw to keep their chances alive, and the last four had to win the title.

But Halep’s tough first-round loss to Maria Sharapova as good as closed the door on her chances, and Wozniacki, Konta, and Kuznetsova excluded themselves by also losing too soon.

Muguruza’s seamless progress to the fourth round ensured Williams was also put out of the picture, though she former champion could still make a bid for the title. But the impressive Muguruza, Wimbledon and Cincinnati champion and leader in the Race to Singapore, was increasingly the prime contender to take over No1 spot. Indeed, it was down to Pliskova and Svitolina to stack up the results—at least a semi-final and a final run respectively—and even then, they had to hope that Muguruza would not reach the final.

The first challenge for Pliskova was Shuai Zhang, who she had beaten in all four previous matches, most of them in straight sets. But for the second match in a row in New York, she found herself a set down.

After a quick exchange of breaks in the first set, Zhang broke again and held onto her advantage for a 6-3 set. Pliskova took a 3-0 lead in the second set, but again Zhang broke back, and they stayed on level terms to 4-4.

The Chinese woman, whose nimble all-court game, and with net skills honed successfully on the doubles court, kept the rangy Pliskova on the run, she broke again and would serve for the match.

But now Pliskova’s power forehand came to the table to save match point, and the Czech went on to break, 5-5. Still Zhang was not done: she worked three break points in the next game, using her own forehand to great effect. She got another chance in the longest rally of the match, 28-shots, but twice Pliskova’s aced to edge the lead, and then broke for the set. 7-5.

Pliskova took treatment to her right arm between sets, and certainly looked in trouble at the start of the set, losing her serve and failing to capitalise on chances in the second game: Zhang held for 2-0.

However, the Chinese woman began to make too many errors as she came under pressure from Pliskova’s fire-power. The top seed levelled at 2-2, and despite looking exhausted, held to love at 5-4 before breaking for set and match, 6-4, with her 33rd winner of the match after a gruelling 2hrs 20mins.

The good news for Pliskova is that she will face the 91-ranked Jennifer Brady in the fourth round. The bad news is that she is in the same half of the draw as fellow No1 contender, Svitolina, who has the edge in points.

And the fast-rising 22-year-old from the Ukraine progressed to the fourth round in New York for the first time with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Shelby Rogers, ranked 62. Rogers had played the longest women’s match in US Open history, 3hrs 33mins, in the second round.

So just what are the scenarios for these two chasers?

Elina Svitolina

· Won: Toronto, Rome, Istanbul, Dubai, Taipei City; Quarters French Open

· Svitolina leads the tour with five titles, and became the first player to win three Premier 5 events in the same season.

· The 22-year-old needs to reach the semis to have a chance of moving to No1. If Muguruza reaches the quarters, then Svitolina needs to reach the final. Svitolina can reach No1 if she wins the title.

Karolina Pliskova

· Won: Eastbourne, Doha, Brisbane; Semis in Cincinnati, French Open, Miami, Indian Wells

· Pliskova was runner-up here last year, and took over as No1 during Wimbledon.

· To keep No1, must reach the final. But if Muguruza reaches the semis, Pliskova needs to win the title. If Muguruza reaches the final, Pliskova cannot retain No1 ranking.

· If she plays Muguruza in the final and wins, the two women will be tied on points, and Pliskova will lost the No1 ranking on tie-break criteria—ie ranking points at Grand Slams, Premier Mandatory events, Premier 5 events and the WTA Finals.

And why Muguruza looks like the No1 in waiting

· Won: Cincinnati, Wimbledon; Semis Rome; Quarters Australian Open

· She is bidding to become just the second player in the last 14 years to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season, and the youngest player to win two Majors in a season since Justine Henin in 2003.

· Will rise to No1 if she wins US Open. If she plays Pliskova in the final and loses, she will be tied with Pliskova on points, and will take No1 ranking on tie-break criteria—ie ranking points at Grand Slams, Premier Mandatory events, Premier 5 events and the WTA Finals.

· If Muguruza plays Svitolina in the final, the winner will be No1.

Other results in this top half of the draw:

· French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko lost to unseeded Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-2.

· Qualifier Kaia Kanepi beat unseeded Naomi Osaka, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

· Lucie Safarova is into the fourth round here for only the second time in 13 visits, beating Kurumi Nara, 6-3, 6-2—both unseeded.

· No91 Jennifer Brady made the fourth round in her debut home Major appearance with a win over No57 Monica Niculescu, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(3).

· Coco Vandeweghe, the 25-year-old No20 seed, beat No10 Agnieszka Radwanska, to set a fourth-round match against Safarova. Radwanska has yet to get beyond the fourth round in New York in 12 visits. Vandeweghe had never even made the third round in eight previous visits.

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