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US Open Update: Kastles Stars Dominating Women's Draw

September 9, 2020 - World TeamTennis (WTT) - Washington Kastles News Release

Nicole Melichar in 2018 with the Washington Kastles
Nicole Melichar in 2018 with the Washington Kastles
(Washington Kastles, Credit: Abby Van Ess)

When all is said done, the 2020 US Open will go down in the books as a truly historic tennis event. With Finals weekend fast approaching, it's also clear that it could be a historic tournament for an exceptional group of Kastles legends.

When you come to a Kastles match, you may see a current or a future superstar who will compete on the sport's biggest stages. This year's US Open is a perfect example, as five of eight of the women's singles quarterfinalists are former Kastles players who were all featured in DC at one point in their careers. And if former world #1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka pulls through her quarterfinal match against #16 seed Elise Mertens tonight, it would set up an unprecedented all-Kastles alumni semifinals at the Open! (See preview below.)

Don't miss Vika on ESPN2 tonight at 7 p.m. EST!

Under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium last night, former Kastles superstar and two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka (2018) defeated another former Kastle, South Carolina native Shelby Rogers (2018-19), 6-3, 6-4, in an all-Kastles match of the quarterfinals.

The victory sealed Osaka's first semifinal berth in New York since she captured her maiden Grand Slam title in 2018, defeating Kastles legend Serena Williams in the final to become the youngest US Open champion, since Maria Sharapova in 2006. It also marked a reversal of fortune for Osaka against a tough former Kastle. The US Open champ had come up short in four previous encounters against Rogers, failing to win a single set.

"I just felt like she had the upper hand, because I had never beaten her," said Osaka after the win. "Those memories were stuck in my head. I consider this a little bit of revenge. I'm glad I was able to have a much better attitude today. I've had a couple of really hard matches that makes me grateful to be in this position right now."

The 22-year-old, Japanese superstar was pushed to three sets in the first round by compatriot, Misaki Doi, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, and then again in the third round by yet another former Kastle, Marta Kostyuk (2019), 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2. But Osaka was near flawless in her second Kastle vs. Kastle match, committing just 8 unforced errors, compared to 28 by Rogers, in their quarterfinal clash.

The straight-sets win sets up another highly-anticipated Kastle vs. Kastle showdown against Pennsylvania native and #28 seed Jennifer Brady (2019) for a spot in the finals.

Follow Naomi & Jennifer and all your favorite Kastles on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook @washkastles!

Brady, who made her Kastles debut in 2019 as a substitute, booked her first career semifinal appearance at a Grand Slam with a resounding win over #23 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-2. Brady's previous best showing at the Slams was a pair of 4th-round finishes at the Australian Open and US Open in 2017. But clearly, 2020 is turning out to be a breakthrough year for Brady.

Before the tour hiatus, the former Kastle reached the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where after winning three qualifying matches, she upset world #3 Elina Svitolina and former Wimbledon and French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza, before losing to then world #1 Simona Halep.

Brady then shocked the tennis world this August by winning the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky, without losing a set, in the first tournament to be held by the WTA since the global shutdown. And prior to her win over Putintseva, she thoroughly outplayed three-time major winner and #17 seed Angelique Kerber, 6-1, 6-4, in the 4th round. But Brady will meet her match against Osaka.

The pair have split their two previous encounters. Osaka won their most recent meeting in straight sets in Charleston, in 2018, while Brady claimed their first match as teenagers in New Braunfels, Texas, back in 2014.

Kastles legend and #3 seed Serena Williams (2008-09, 2011), who played in the Kastles' first tennis match ever, sealed her spot in the semis and advanced her chances of winning a record-tying 24th major singles title in New York with a comeback win over fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals today.

The six-time US Open champ will face the winner of tonight's quarterfinal match between Azarenka and Mertens in the bottom half of the draw tomorrow.

Williams won her first US Open title in 1999, as a teenager. In her last 11 trips to New York, she has won four championships and finished three times as a runner-up and three times as a semifinalist. She lost in the final in 2018 and 2019, part of a stretch in which she has reached the championship match at four of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments, falling just short of getting that elusive 24th, which would tie her with Aussie great Margaret Court for most major titles in tennis history.

Unlike Court's, all of Williams's major titles have come in the professional era.

Williams was pushed to three sets in her two previous matches. Locked in a tough 4th-round match against #15 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece on Monday, without the benefit of a pro-American audience, the Kastles legend dug deep to get over the finish line, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, and reach the quarterfinals.

The victory was especially sweet for Williams, who lost to Sakkari in three sets, less than two weeks ago, at the Western & Southern Open, a hard-court tournament usually held in Ohio, but moved to the US Open site, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Of course I thought about the loss," said Williams afterwards, "but ever so little, because it's a completely different match, completely different scenario, completely different moment."

Prior to Sakkari, Williams defeated former Kastle (2014) and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, after a slow start cost her the first set, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Azarenka Aims to Make it All-Kastles Semifinals

Former world #1 and 2010 Kastles star Victoria Azarenka aims to reach her first major semifinal since 2013, when she fell to Serena Williams in the US Open final. She plays Belgium's Elise Mertens tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. It will be the first career meeting between the two players.

Azarenka is currently 9-0 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, dating back to her title run at the Western & Southern Open (the Kastles' star's first singles crown since 2016) in the tune-up for this year's US Open.

The former world #1 and two-time major champion is getting it done behind her return. Through four rounds, she has won 58 percent of her return games, but was pushed to the limit in the 4th round by #20 Karolina Muchova, coming back from a set down, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, to book her first quarterfinal appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2015.

Mertens, meanwhile, reached the Western & Southern Open semifinals, and in her previous match upset #2 seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in straight sets to make the last eight in New York for the second consecutive year.

Watch LIVE on ESPN2 & ESPN+ TONIGHT at 7 pm!

Kastles Also Shine in Doubles

Bruno Soares Reaches Men's Doubles Final

Nicole Melichar Advances to Women's Doubles Final

Former Kastles doubles star Bruno Soares, shown here at Kastles Stadium on Union Market in 2019, advanced to the men's doubles final in New York. (Willis Bretz)

It's also been an impressive showing for Kastles alumni in doubles.

In a dominant semifinal performance on Louis Armstrong Stadium, former Kastles doubles star Bruno Soares (2017-19) and Mate Pavic bested 2017 US Open champions Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, 6-4, 7-5, to reach the final of the men's doubles championship.

The pair will face #8 seeds Nikola Mektić and Wesley Koolhof in the final on Thursday. Mektić and Koolhof upset #3 seeds Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram in the semis and haven't dropped a set since the first round. Soares, a five-time Grand Slam doubles champion, and Pavic, a three-time major champ, had a rockier road to the final.

In the first round, the pair rallied from a break down in the third set against 2019 US Open finalists Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos. Then in the second round, Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow served for the match, but Soares and Pavic, who won the 2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters, would not be denied.

They found their form in the quarterfinals, perhaps not accidentally, against Soares's former partner Jamie Murray, with whom he won the 2016 Australian and US Opens, and 2020 WTT champion Neal Skupski (New York Empire), beating the pair, 6-2, 7-6(4), to score their first straight-sets victory and reach the final four of the tournament.


Elsewhere, former Kastle Nicole Melichar (2018) and Xu Yifan scored a spot in the women's final. The #3 seeds ousted Philadelphia Freedoms duo Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad in a sensational women's doubles semifinal that saw Melichar and Xu save a match point in a nail-biting, third-set tiebreak before prevailing, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7).

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Prior to the semis, Melichar and Xu defeated 2019 Citi Open champions and fan favorites Coco Gauff and Caty McNally in two, tiebreak sets, 7-6(4), 7-6(2), to become the first seeded team to reach the quarterfinals. The pair then easily beat American-Brazilian duo Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to the final four.

Next up, Melichar and Xu will meet Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva in the final on Friday. The unseeded, German-Russian tandem upset #7 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin and #2 seeds Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka en route to the champion round.

Melichar is aiming to claim her first major women's doubles title in New York. She won the Wimbledon mixed doubles championship and reached the final of the women's doubles tournament, as well, in 2018, the year she made her Kastles debut.

Images from this story

Naomi Osaka with the Washington Kastles
Naomi Osaka with the Washington Kastles

(Rich Kessler)
Shelby Rogers in 2019 with the Washington Kastles
Shelby Rogers in 2019 with the Washington Kastles

(E. Stoler/Washington Kastles)
Jennifer Brady with the Washington Kastles
Jennifer Brady with the Washington Kastles

(E. Stoler/Washington Kastles)
Washington Kastles legend Serena Williams in 2011
Washington Kastles legend Serena Williams in 2011

(Washington Kastles)
Victoria Azarenka with the Washington Kastles
Victoria Azarenka with the Washington Kastles

(Washington Kastles)
Bruno Soares in 2019 with the Washington Kastles
Bruno Soares in 2019 with the Washington Kastles

(Willis Bretz)
Nicole Melichar in 2018 with the Washington Kastles
Nicole Melichar in 2018 with the Washington Kastles

(Abby Van Ess)

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