Muguruza could jump from ‘cursed’ to first at US Open

Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza has shaken off her US Open ‘curse’. Now the Spanish third seed is taking aim at a third Grand Slam title and world number one ranking.

Garbine Muguruza of Spain returns a shot to Ying-Ying Duan in New York on Wednesday.   -  AFP

Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza has shaken off her US Open ‘curse’. Now the Spanish third seed is taking aim at a third Grand Slam title and world number one ranking.

The Venezuelan-born 23-year-old, already the highest ranked woman in her half of the draw, could make herself the woman to beat in the chase to lead the rankings by reaching the last 16 on Friday.

“All I want is to win matches and the ranking sooner or later will come,” Muguruza said.

Muguruza won her first Grand Slam title at last year's French Open, added to her major trophy haul in July on All England grass and won the last prime US Open tuneup at Cincinnati to make herself a solid favorite on the New York hardcourts.

Muguruza defeated China's 92nd-ranked Duan Ying-Ying 6-4, 6-0 Wednesday to reach the US Open's third round for the first time in five tries. “I know I had like a curse and I broke it finally. I'm so happy,” Muguruza said.

“I think about it before -- ‘I’m once again here, I have another chance, let's try to break this.’”

If Muguruza can defeat Slovakian 31st seed Magdalena Rybarikova to reach the fourth round, she will become the woman to catch in the race for world No.1.

"I try to focus on more winning matches here and try to go forward rather than the ranking because is the first step, to win matches, getting far in tournament, and we see after," Muguruza said.

Muguruza is 3-1 against Rybarikova in tournament play, including a 6-1, 6-1, triumph in this year's Wimbledon semi-finals.

She also swept their two hardcourt meetings in 2013 at Indian Wells and the first round of the Australian Open.

Muguruza admits just getting this far was a big hurdle to overcome.

"I feel like a relief in a way," Muguruza said. "I've been always stuck in this round. I didn't know really why. I'm happy that at least I am one more round up. I still want to go as far as I can."

The sky is the limit to fill the lofty footsteps held by her childhood idol Serena Williams when the year began.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, is about to have a baby and has not played since winning the Australian Open while pregnant.

Germany's Angelique Kerber, the 2016 US Open winner who also held the top spot this year, crashed out in the first round.

Four women with a chance to claim the top position in the year's final Grand Slam tournament went out in the first three days -- Danish fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki, British seventh seed Johanna Konta, world number two Simona Halep of Romania and Russian eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who lost Thursday to Japan's Karumi Nara 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Halep still has a points edge but Muguruza would overtake and eliminate Halep by reaching the fourth round and also end any hope for US ninth seed Venus Williams, the Wimbledon and Australian Open runner-up.

The only remaining obstacles to Muguruza taking the top spot for the first time would then be Ukraine fourth seed Elina Svitolina and Czech number one Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 US Open runner-up.

"For each player, to reach number one in the world is a massive deal and we all want it," Svitolina said.

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