US Open: Petra Martic sails into the second week
Petra Martic celebrates winning a point | Photo: Simon Bruty

Petra Martic has been flying under the radar, and she is now just one win away from her maiden US Open quarterfinal appearance. This comes after an impressive display against world number 102 Varvara Gracheva in the third round, beating the Russian youngster 6-3, 6-3 after an hour and 27 minutes in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Being one of the in-form players ever since the tour resumed, Martic deservedly becomes one of the first few players to earn a place in the fourth round. Such matches are key for top players; winning matches they are expected to in routine fashion even without playing their best tennis.

Nonetheless, it was still a decent performance from the Croatian eighth seed as she blasted 16 winners to just 11 unforced errors, playing an extremely clean match against the unseeded and looming Gracheva, who misfired on 33 occasions.

Martic was tactically on-point as her wide kick serves were too good for Gracheva, and several excellent disguises and passing shots overcame Gracheva’s aggression at the net. Setting up an intriguing fourth-round meeting against 23rd seed Yulia Putintseva, Martic stands a decent chance of mounting a deep run in Flushing Meadows judging by her current form.

Petra Martic lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round last year | Photo: Simon Bruty
Petra Martic lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round last year | Photo: Simon Bruty

Martic survives early nerves and asserts her authority

The pair had met earlier last month at the Prague Open, with Gracheva giving Martic all sorts of trouble in that thrilling first-round encounter. Meeting on hard courts this time, the Croatian looked to repeat her win, though she would have to blast her way through Gracheva’s solid all-court game.

Martic, a top-eight seed by virtue of several withdrawals, got the start she wanted as she capitalized on some early nerves from the inexperienced Gracheva, who is making her main draw debut at a Grand Slam. She sealed the break in the opening game with a backhand winner and was tipped to sail through the remainder of the match.

As the match progressed, Gracheva found her footing and proceeded to provide a tougher challenge by grabbing the immediate break back. The lack of pace on her serves proved to be a liability, with Martic having the time to place her returns and gain the upper hand from the start. 

Petra Martic steadied her service games after a relatively slow start | Photo: Simon Bruty
Petra Martic steadied her service games after a relatively slow start | Photo: Simon Bruty

Limiting the number of unforced errors was key for Martic as Gracheva, being the more aggressive player on the court, was spraying errors from the baseline. Breaking serve for the fourth time in the set, the eighth seed sealed the opening frame 6-3.

Martic closes the comeback door

The changeover between sets seemed to have calmed Gracheva down as she came out firing off the blocks. The 102nd-ranked Russian looked more confident and attempted to dominate play by rushing to the net on multiple occasions; it happened six times in the first set as compared to 17 times in the second. 

Nonetheless, she was unable to hold onto her advantage as Martic claimed four games on the trot, looking set for the routine victory. Despite so, Gracheva can never be written off, judging by her comeback victory over 30th seed Kristina Mladenovic from 1-6, 1-5 in the second round. She overcame the disappointment of missing multiple break chances in the fifth game, producing some smart returns to minimize the deficit.

It was a fantastic run from Varvara Gracheva, who is set to return to the Top 100 | Photo: Simon Bruty
It was a fantastic run from Varvara Gracheva, who is set to return to the Top 100 | Photo: Simon Bruty

Sensing the threat from the Russian, Martic knew that she had to step up to the occasion because any lapse in focus could have dire consequences at such a critical stage. Defending brilliantly at the baseline, her backhand slices troubled Gracheva as the youngster attempted to shorten the points, but to no avail.

Martic broke serve for the sixth time in the afternoon and earned her most comfortable service hold of the encounter to successfully serve out the match, booking her spot in the second week for the second year in succession.

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