The better-ranked players didn't enjoy a great day at the office in the third round of the Cincinnati Premier 5 event, with Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Donna Vekic and Aryna Sabalenka all bowing out to the opponents ranked lower than them on the WTA list.
Maria Sakkari took down the 9th seed Aryna Sabalenka 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 after two hours and 43 minutes, having to dig deep despite the fact she won 17 points more than the Belarusian. Hitting five winners and 17 double faults, Aryne went through hell and back in her service games, facing 23 break chances and erasing an incredible number of 20 to stay competitive until the end.
On the other hand, Maria fended off four out of five break points to mount the pressure on the other side of the net and waste numerous opportunities to move over the finish line earlier. After nine great holds on both sides, Sabalenka saved five set points on serve in games ten and 12, reaching the tie break and taking it 7-4 for a massive steal.
She fended off six break points at the beginning of the second set as well before opening a 4-1 lead, having the upper hand in the pivotal moments and looking good to seal the deal in straight sets. Instead of that, Sakkari finally started to use her opportunities, taking the last five games for a 6-4 and the momentum ahead of the decider where she lost only six points behind the initial shot, earning a break in game five and securing the victory with a hold in game ten for the place in the last eight.
The veteran Venus Williams delivered another strong performance to oust Donna Vekic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, taking charge after losing the opening set and playing better and better as the match progressed to propel herself into the quarters.
Venus never found the rhythm behind the first serve and had to defend 15 break chances, dismissing ten to keep herself in contention with six breaks from 11 opportunities on the return. Vekic grabbed three breaks for a comfortable lead in the opening set before losing the ground in the second, allowing Venus to race into a 5-1 advantage and bring it home after saving two break points in game nine.
The final set kicked off with back-to-back breaks and Williams was the player on the mission after saving three break points in the fourth game, stealing Vekic's serve in games five and nine to pass another obstacle and stay in the title chase.
The 4th seed Simona Halep had suffered an ankle injury in Toronto and she is still not at her best, losing to Madison Keys 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 in two hours and two minutes for the first loss against the American since Sydney 2014!
Both players had their chances with 28 break points up for grabs, with Keys repelling 11 out of 15 to keep the pressure on the other side of the net, stealing Halep's serve six times to find herself in the quarters.
Firing from all cylinders, Madison stormed over Halep to take the opener 6-1 in less than 25 minutes, hanging in there in set number two as well before the Romanian took it 6-3 with a break in game eight. Giving her best to overcome the rival and the fatigue, Simona fought back in the decider and saved a match point at 4-5 before getting broken at 5-6 to push Keys through and take some rest ahead of the US Open.
An in-form American Sofia Kenin took down the 7th seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 7-6 in just under two hours, prevailing in the crucial moments to deliver another significant victory in the breakthrough season. Sofia survived a slow start unbroken and stole Svitolina's serve at 3-2 to forge the advantage that carried her towards the opener.
Ther youngster served for the victory at 5-4 in the second, wasting a match point and allowing Elina to break back and reach a tie break that Kenin won 7-3 to march over the finish line and enter the last eight.