By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The last two women’s champions were already out of the U.S. Open and now the 2021 runner-up and another semifinalist are gone.
Top players are falling fast in Flushing Meadows, and Serena Williams took care of another one Wednesday night.
Hours before Williams beat No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit, third-seeded Maria Sakkari was ousted 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 by Wang Xiyu of China in the second round.
Then, minutes after Williams’ victory, No. 14 Leylah Fernandez was knocked off 6-3, 7-6 (3) by Liudmila Samsonova, a year after the Canadian lost to Emma Raducanu in the final.
Fernandez only recently returned to action after missing much of the summer with a stress fracture in her right foot. She would have played Williams if both reached the fourth round but knew that would be difficult, estimating her game was only about 30%.
“It’s hard to get to the highest level, but it’s so easy to get back down and that’s what happening right now,” Fernandez said.
It’s not just happening to her.
Raducanu and two-time winner Naomi Osaka were eliminated Tuesday night in the first round. That left Bianca Andreescu, who beat Williams in the 2019 final, as the most recent U.S. Open women’s champion still in the field.
Andreescu was set to face No. 15 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia on Wednesday night.
Defending men’s champion Daniil Medvedev followed Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium and produced a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 win over Arthur Rinderknech of France. That sends the top-ranked Medvedev into a third-round matchup against Wu Yibing, the first Chinese man to win a U.S. Open match in the professional era, which began in 1968.
Sakkari reached two Grand Slam semifinals last year but has had a difficult time backing up her success in 2022, acknowledging this week that she struggled to handle a higher profile that came with her rise to No. 3 in the rankings. She said some days she didn’t enjoy tennis and didn’t even want to get out of bed.
The Greek said she was happier coming into this tournament but her game just wasn’t quite good enough against the 75th-ranked Wang, who advanced past the second round of a major for the first time.
“It’s disappointing, it hurts, because I was feeling better, I was enjoying myself, feeling good on the court and it was just very disappointing that my level was that low today,” Sakkari said.
No. 12 Coco Gauff and 20th-seeded Madison Keys avoided the trouble, setting up a third-round matchup between the Americans. Gauff beat Elena Gabriela Ruse 6-2, 7-6 (4), while 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Keys outlasted Camili Giorgi 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6).
Gauff was two points from dropping the second set at 5-3 before the 18-year old rallied, something she said demonstrates an aspect of her game that wasn’t there early in the season but could make the French Open finalist a threat now.
“Today, down love-30, 5-3, definitely could have threw it in the can and got ready for the third set. Same at 15-40. But I didn’t,” Gauff said. “I feel like that shows growth. I feel like in the past, those are games I would have lost. Yeah, it’s about learning, and I think I’m learning.”
Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray rebounded quickly after dropping the first set to power past American Emilio Nava 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 and set up a third-round meeting with No. 13 seed Matteo Berrettini.
No. 23 Nick Kyrgios overcame France’s Benjamin Bonzi and the smell of marijuana that bothered him inside Louis Armstrong Stadium. The Wimbledon runner-up already knows the challenge presented by the New York noise, but this time it was by its scent.
“People don’t know, I’m a heavy asthmatic,” Kyrgios said after his 7-6 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory. “When I’m running side to side, I’m struggling to breathe. Probably not something I want to be breathing in in between points.”
Coming off her own run to the Wimbledon finals, No. 5 Ons Jabeur matched her best U.S. Open result with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Elizabeth Mandlik, the daughter of 1985 champion Hana Mandlikova. Jabeur lost in the third round in each of her last three trips to New York.
“I have a mission,” Jabeur said. “I’m No. 5 in the world, so for me I’m trying to represent that number as much as I can so I can really improve my game and I can really continue and improve my ranking, hopefully.”
She will play American Shelby Rogers, the No. 31 seed who beat Viktoria Kuzmova 7-5, 6-1.
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