Defending champion survives injury to see off Ukraine challenger

Sloane Stephens stepped up her Grand Slam title defence on Day 3 at Flushing Meadows, fighting off a painful blister to defeat the Ukraine’s 134th-ranked qualifier Anna Kalinina 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

The American third seed , who beat compatriot Madison Keys for the home title a year ago, now stands 9-1 over qualifiers at the majors.

“I wasn’t playing my best but I knew I had to find a way to make some plays,” Stephens said. 

“It was hot and I was sweating a lot, but I came out in the third set bouncing around and ready to go. I never gave up, and I fought my tail off the whole time.”

Stephens next faces double Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, who  stopped Australian Daria Gavrilova in a quick 6-1, 6-2. The Belarus player who is coming back as the mother of a toddler, stand 3-2 in the series with Stephens.

She beat the US player for three straight years at the Australian Open, 2013-2015, before losing their last two matches this season at Indian Wells and Miami in March.

Stephens was joined in the third round by one of her tennis idols after 38-year-old Venus Williams beat Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5.

Williams, an Open champion in 2000 and 2001 as a teenager,  set a personal best, winning her 775th match in the main draw of a Grand Slam.

“I felt the energy, definitely,” the winner said, “The crowd really helped me to get through.”

Sister Serena Williams fired 13 aces to defeat the German Carina Witthoeft, 6-2, 6-2, to set up a highly anticipated clash against  Venus in the third round.

It will be the 30th  encounter between the siblings and 16th time the pair have met in a major. Serena leads the head-to-head matchup 17-12.

The 36-year-old is chasing her seventh US Open crown and her 24th major title.

Ukrainian seventh seed Elina Svitolina got past Germany’s Tatjana Maris 6-3, 6-3, in 68 minutes.   

“I’m very happy with the way I played. Conditioning is key and I am happy with my fitness.” Svitolina, who won five 2017 titles and ended sixth in the rankings, said in victory.

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