The weather continued to play havoc at the ASB Classic in Auckland on Wednesday, and organisers were forced to send matches indoors because of the persistent rain to complete the 1st-round, where Rebeka Masarova, a qualifier from Spain, upset Sloane Stephens, the No 2 seed, 6-3 7-6(5).
Unfortunately, we had to go indoors, but it was less windy so that’s a problem I didn’t need to worry about. But the courts felt really fast, especially with who I played. She's not an easy opponent and after the match I told my Dad I don’t know what’s better, to play indoors or outdoors against her because she’s a really tough player. Sofia Kenin
With no public access, fans were invited to watch the matches played indoors on the big screens from the covered stands in the Stadium or at The Serve.
Stephens, though, struggled to adjust to the indoor setting, and fell to the 130th-ranked Masarova in just under two hours.
The match had been held over from the previous evening, with Masarova leading 2-1 on serve when play was suspended late on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, the Spaniard immediately broke the American for 3-1 and, playing behind a strong serve, took the first set in 41 minutes.
Masarova, who is ranked 130 and stand 6’1” tall, then broke again for an early 2-0 lead in the second, but Stephens levelled at 2-2, before she broke again in the 6th game for a 4-2 lead.
It was short-lived as Masarova broke back in the 9th, and almost did so again when she had 3 break points at 0-40 on Stephens’ next delivery, but the American was able to stave them all off.
Sprinting out to 6-2 in the tiebreak, the 23-year old sealed the upset on her 4th match point to claim her first win over a top-50 player since 2016.
“I thought I played some good points,” Stephens said. “I thought I played well in some moments.
“Obviously, I wish I could have played better and done some things differently but, overall, I’m upset but not devastated.
“It’s the first tournament of year, so I have to be realistic, and just know there’s stuff to build on.”
Stephens hopes to play in Hobart, Australia next week to further prepare for the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on 16 January.
Other Americans fared better indoors, as earlier, former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin beat Wang Xinyu of China, 7-6(6) 6-3, and will now face top-seeded compatriot Coco Gauff in the 2nd-round.
Kenin recovered from 0-5 down in the first set tiebreak, before dominating the second set.
“I’m happy to get the win, in the conditions it wasn’t easy, so I had to adjust pretty fast and I’m happy I was able to do it,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s easier to play when you’re down, I guess, because you feel free and when it gets closer you feel tight.
“But I managed to save two set points, so I’m happy it was clutch tennis.”
Later she told the press: “Unfortunately, we had to go indoors, but it was less windy so that’s a problem I didn’t need to worry about. But the courts felt really fast, especially with who I played.
“She’s not an easy opponent and after the match I told my Dad I don’t know what’s better, to play indoors or outdoors against her because she’s a really tough player.”
Lauren Davis easily got past Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, 6-2 6-1, and will next face 7th-seeded Danka Kovinic from Montenegro, who defeated Japan’s Nao Hibino, 6-1 6-4.
Meanwhile, Karolina Muchova, who entered the tournament under a special ranking and missed much of last season, advanced when her opponent, Wang Xiyu, the 5th seed from China, retired with an injury as the score stood at 5-3 in the Czech’s favour.
Muchova is a talented Czech 26-year old, who has been plagued by numerous injuries and illnesses and did not play at the Australian Open in 2022, which resulted in her dropping out of top 50, and she is currently ranked 151, having been as high as 19 in the world in May 2021.
She now takes on Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse in round 2.
While organisers are hoping for a break in the weather to head back outdoors in front of the fans, they have the back-up of the two indoor courts to progress to Sunday’s final.
All 2nd-round matches are scheduled to be played on Thursday, with Britain’s Emma Raducanu facing Slovakian qualifier Victoria Kuzmova in the 3rd match on the Stadium court after a Noon start, local time, (1am GMT).