NEW YORK — Aryna Sabalenka is going to be the No. 1 player in the WTA rankings next week, replacing Iga Swiatek there. That much is certain. The way Sabalenka is playing at the moment, she might very well supplant Swiatek as the U.S. Open champion, too.
In Sabalenka’s first match since being assured of rising to the top of women’s tennis, she showed off the power-based game that allows her to dominate so many opponents, overwhelming No. 13 seed Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-3 on Monday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium to advance to her fifth consecutive major quarterfinal.
“All this year, I’ve been pushing myself so hard to reach this goal,” Sabalenka said about getting to No. 1. “It really means a lot for me. It means a lot for my family. It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable.”
After the top-seeded Swiatek lost in the fourth round on Sunday night, No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 5 Ons Jabeur — who was the runner-up in New York a year ago — both were defeated Monday. No. 4 Elena Rybakina bowed out last week.
That all left Sabalenka as the only one of the top five women remaining in the bracket.
She will play No. 23 Zheng Qinwen on Wednesday for a spot in the semifinals. The other quarterfinal on the bottom half of the draw will be Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova against No. 17 Madison Keys, the U.S. Open runner-up in 2017.
The quarterfinals on the top half of the women’s bracket will be played Tuesday: No. 6 Coco Gauff vs. 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and No. 10 Karolina Muchova vs. No. 30 Sorana Cirstea.
Zheng, a 20-year-old from China, was responsible for eliminating Jabeur, who’s been sick, by the score of 6-2, 6-3 to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time. Keys took care of Pegula 6-1, 6-3, while Vondrousova beat unseeded American Peyton Stearns 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2.
“I feel this is, like, an important win for me,” Zheng said. “I always believe that I’m able to beat everyone if I play the right tennis.”
In men’s action Monday, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz won in straight sets and will next meet No. 6 Jannik Sinner or No. 12 Alexander Zverev, while 2021 champion Danill Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev will face off in an all-Russian quarterfinal. Rublev beat Jack Draper 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the afternoon, and Medvedev got past No. 13 Alex de Minaur 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 at night.
Sabalenka said she thought she would be distracted against Kasatkina by the rankings news. Sure didn’t seem to be one bit.
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January, frequently hits shots with such force, and such little subtlety, that her amount of control can vary. But when she’s on, she’s tough to counter, and Sabalenka was on-target against Kasatkina, winding up with a 31-7 edge in total winners in a match that lasted just 75 minutes.
“I’m super happy with the performance today,” Sabalenka said. “I’m super happy I was able to put her under pressure.”
Kasatkina acknowledges that her serve is a weakness and so, not surprisingly, she was in particular trouble in those games. Sabalenka repeatedly would tee off on second serves in the 70s mph, either ripping a clean winner or forcing an error on the other side of the net.
Kasatkina won just one of her eight service games.
After her big breakthrough at Melbourne Park, Sabalenka got to the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon, making her 21-2 in Grand Slam matches this season.
Now she’ll attempt to get back to the semifinals in New York, where she lost at that stage two years ago to Leylah Fernandez and last year to Swiatek.
The No. 1 ranking is hers, but Sabalenka is hoping to claim major trophy No. 2.
“I think she’s been knocking on the door for quite a while,” Pegula said. “It’s nice to see that change and see her get rewarded for how well she’s been playing, her consistency, especially in the Slams.”
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