Caroline Wozniacki secured the biggest win of her comeback on Wednesday night as the former world No 1 defeated 11th seed Petra Kvitova 7-5, 7-6 to reach the third round of the US Open.
Twice a finalist in New York City, Wozniacki retired from tennis in 2020 to raise a family and made her return to the tour earlier this month. In just the third tournament of her comeback, the Dane offered plenty of reminders of the talent that took her to an Australian Open title, turning back the clock to come out on top in the battle of 33-year-old Grand Slam champions.
"I've been feeling very comfortable here in New York in general," Wozniacki said. "Ever since I arrived here, it's just something about the courts, everything else, that have made me feel good.
"I'm just so thrilled to have an opportunity to play out on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Three years ago if you'd asked me, I didn't think I was ever going to play on one of those courts again in the US Open, especially a night session. It just feels pretty incredible to be out there and winning a match like that."
The last time Wozniacki beat a top 20 ranked opponent was at the 2018 WTA Finals when she took down then world No 5 Kvitova. Five years later, their 15th meeting ended with the same outcome.
The match did not start well for Wozniacki as Kvitova broke her to open the contest, but the Dane hit back immediately with a break of her own and then clinched the first set with another break.
Kvitova was never going to outwork the Dane, who endeared herself to New Yorkers by returning to the city to run the marathon, but the Czech had other weapons including a willingness to go for the big shot.
Wozniacki showed that she still possesses some firepower and used it to blast back-to-back aces to secure a decisive break to seal the first set.
The play remained just as tight in the second with Kvitova serving to stay in the contest at 5-5, fighting off two match points to send the set to a tie-break.
But Wozniacki would not be denied, clinching the tie-break 7-5 when the Czech's desperate forehand sailed long, and she will face American Jennifer Brady in the third round.
Tsitsipas 'not good enough'
Stefanos Tsitsipas said his recent form was "not good enough" as his poor run continued with another early exit from Flushing Meadows when qualifier Dominic Stricker stunned the seventh seed in a second-round five-set thriller.
Tsitsipas reached the Australian Open final this year but has never made it past the third round in six main draw appearances in New York and he struggled against Stricker's massive serve and booming forehand before bowing out 7-5 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.
He won in Los Cabos earlier this month but his form dipped in the run-up to the US Open, suffering early exits from Toronto and Cincinnati.
"I won't blame it on anything. It's just poor performance after Los Cabos," he said. "I consider myself a good player, and I don't want to be a person that can be beaten easily or I'm giving my opponents easy time on the court against me. I try to make it as hard as I can, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I move on with my life."
He removed his father, Apostolos Tsitsipas, as head coach earlier this month but said that shake-ups to his team were not to blame.
"By no means I'm supposed to put any blame on any people or any members of my team," he told reporters.
"Everything on court is under my control and under my talents, and the way I can play this sport are shown out on the court. If I'm not able to deliver, then I'm not supposed to be doing well."
Casper Ruud, last year's finalist, was also made a surprise exit on Wednesday as the Norwegian fifth seed was defeated 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2 by Chinese world No 67 Zhizhen Zhang. With the victory, Zhang became the first Chinese player to defeat a top five player since the ATP rankings system began.
There were no such concerns for Novak Djokovic, though, as the second seed and three-time champion eased past 76th-ranked Bernabe Zapata Miralles, winning 13 of the last 15 games to race through 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
"At 36 years of age, after 20 years of coming to New York, I still have the hunger to play my best tennis on this court," said Djokovic.