By Ros Satar
- Sloane Stephens  def. Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-4
- Rafael Nadal  def. Karen Khachanov  5-7 7-5 7-6(7) 7-6 (3)
NEW YORK, USA – Defending champions Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal made their way into the fourth round, but not without a battle for one of them.
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Sloane Stephens  def. Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-4
Straight sets it might have been, but there was plenty of fight from Victoria Azarenka as she tackled the defending champion and the Roland Garros finalist Sloane Stephens. From the outset, it was Stephens putting the pressure on as she brought up a break point in the first game over two-time finalist Azarenka. Indeed the American got her reward with a break before the first change of ends.
Azarenka had a chance of her own later in the set, but could not convert, as Stephens went on to break to love at the end of the set for a lead. The second set had a lot more twists and turns, with Azarenka pegging Stephens back twice immediately after being broken herself, including a game that where Azarenka fended off four break points.
If the Belarusian had been able to convert her chance in the ninth game, we could have been looking at a thrilling decider, but perhaps after having re-joined the tour in the middle of the season after custody issues over her son, she lacks some of the sharpness to close in for the kill. Stephens broke once more for the match.
Azarenka said, after the match: “I always thought she was very talented. It’s not about what she’s doing differently much. I mean, she’s playing probably more consistent, but I feel that I’m just not closing in. You know, I’m not closing those opportunities, and that’s the difference between win or loss.
“At this stage, it’s a matter of one, two points, and today I just need to cut down my unforced errors and then everything is going to be okay. Everything is fine. I hit all the shots there. It’s just those unforced errors that come out, and right now they are costing me matches. So I have to work on that.”
Stephens described the experience as the tables having turned, having won the last three encounters in a row to equal their head to head.
Stephens said, in her post match press conference: “I think the first couple times I played her, I was just like the young gun, just happy to be on the court with someone who’s ranked No. 1 in the world and had won a Grand Slam already. I think the tables were turned.
“Obviously as a younger player playing someone who’s ranked No. 1 in the world or has had amazing results, when you’re playing them at 20-, 21-year-olds, it’s a bit different. Kind of like when I played [Anhelina] Kalinina. When I played her, I was the older one. She was the younger one. It was just like the matchup is different.
“I think when I played Azarenka the first couple times, it was more like that. Like I said, I was just happy to be on the court with her and competing and pushing her and playing good points and things like that. Not necessarily expecting to win. Now I’m in a position where I fully believe I can win the match, and I go out there ready to execute and ready to play. I think that kind of changes the dynamic of the match.”
Stephens will face Elise Mertens in the fourth round, who she lost to in Cincinnati.
Who will win the US Open 2018 Women’s Singles Title?
Rafael Nadal  def. Karen Khachanov  5-7 7-5 7-6(7) 7-6 (3)
Still largely regarded as one of the favourites for the title, Rafael Nadal faced his toughest test against the No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov. On a day that saw the roof get some action, the hard hitting Russian got the upper hand early in the first set for a 2-1 lead, and manged to fend off a break point from Nadal before the Spaniard got his own breakthrough.
As the first set drew to a close, Khachanov took his chance again, to go ahead once more, but was immediately put under pressure in the next game, saving one break point and finally coming good on a fourth set point.
It looked as though history was going to repeat as Khachanov broke at the same point in the second set and had to fight hard to stop Nadal from breaking back immediately. A flurry of breaks with Nadal levelling, Khachanov breaking back, only to lose that advantage straight away put Nadal in the driving seat, when he broke at the end of the set to level up.
The level went up a notch in the third set with neither man yielding to any break point before a nerve-jangling tie-break with Nadal having four set point before finally grabbing the third set on his fifth.
With Nadal breaking before the first sit-down of the fourth set, it looked as if the confident demeanour of the 22-year-old Russian had been broken. But a more confident passage of play from both player saw Khachanov rewarded with a break to love as the pair headed for another tie-break.
Once more Nadal got the upper hand and closed it out on a third match point.
After the match, Khachanov said: “I gave everything what I had. I think everybody saw it. I’m proud of myself that I could play a good game today, fight till the end. Yeah, just a few points difference that it could go another way.
“Big respect to Rafa. That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world, such a great fighter. Yeah, just happy about my performance. I hope to keep going that way.”
Nadal, who brushed off concern about the strapping he had on his knees during the match, admitted that this had been a tough encounter.
“I went through some very difficult situations. But, yes, he played well. He’s improving always. He’s young. He has everything. He’s a great player. I really see him winning a lot of matches in his tennis career, no? He has a lot of good things. He has a great future to come.
“Yeah, for me personally, of course, it was a physical, demanding match. It was a mentally demanding match. That’s why we practice every day, to play these kind of matches in a great atmosphere in front of an amazing crowd.
“Yeah, very happy to be through. Very happy to have the chance to play again.”
He will face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the fourth round.
Who will win the US Open 2018 Men’s Singles Title?
Play continues at the US Open at 11am (4pm BST) and on Arthur Ashe Stadium at 12pm (5pm BST).
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