Katie Boulter made it into the second round of the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Wednesday, but had to come from a set down to beat Kristyna Pliskova, while Heather Watson’s loss to Nina Stojanovic added the Brtiish No 2’s disappointing season.
I think women in general struggle with a bit of pressure. I feel like this period is not easy for everybody. It’s tough to stay closed in the hotel, in the bubble, like every tournament. I don’t believe that all the players can perform at the highest level that they can offer. Simona Halep
Boulter, who was the last direct acceptance into the main draw of the WTA 1000 event, produced a poised and composed performance to get past the left-handed Czech, who is the twin sister of Karolina, the World No 6, 4-6 6-3 6-3.
Despite serving up 11 double-faults, Boulter outplayed her opponent in the deciding set to make it through to a meeting against Belgium’s World No 17 Elise Mertens.
Both women struggled to hold onto their service games in the opening set, which the Czech, ranked 78, eventually closed out.
Boulter, who went out in the first round in Monterrey last week, started her fightback by moving ahead, 4-1, and riding out the second to level and and forced a decider.
The 24-year-old continued her momentum with an early break and hold to lead 3-1, before eventually taking her 4th match point as Pliskova’s serve again failed to stand up following an unfortunate run of double-faults.
Watson was easily dispatched 6-4 6-1 by Stojanovic, a Serbian who is ranked 95 and came through qualifying, and whom the Brit had beaten twice before on tour.
Ranked 65, Watson was left to rue some costly early errors as she dropped the first set before Stojanovic blew her off the court in the second, much to her frustration, which she displayed by demolishing a racket on court in the process.
That 2021 is proving a tough and difficult year for players was acknowledged by Simona Halep, who says she is unsurprised by the different winners there have been on the WTA Tour this season.
“I think women in general struggle with a bit of pressure,” she said earlier this week. “I feel like this period is not easy for everybody.
“It’s tough to stay closed in the hotel, in the bubble, like every tournament. I don’t believe that all the players can perform at the highest level that they can offer.
“Women’s tennis, the tour, it’s open and everyone can win a tournament in top 10, for sure, and also outside of top 10.
“I’m not very surprised. I know that tournaments are not easy for the players every week in this situation. That’s why I feel like all the players have a chance to win.”
Due to the pandemic, events have implemented procedures to minimise the risk of an outbreak of the virus through the use of ‘bubbles’, designated areas where players must stay throughout their time playing at the event.
At this week’s Miami Open players are being transported to and from the Hard Rock Stadium via bus shuttle, and are not allowed to socialise with anybody outside of the bubble.
Halep, who opted not to play the US Open last year due to the virus, describes staying inside a bubble as ‘exhausting’ but appreciates the rules in place after contracting COVID-19 herself.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, American Sloane Stephens ended her losing run to start the year with a hard-fought 3-set win over France’s Oceane Dodin, 6-7(8) 6-4 6-2.
The former US Open champion is now ranked 49 in the world and has had a dismal start to 2021, enduring an 0-4 win-loss record to begin the year.
The 28-year-old was made to do it the hard way against the French qualifier, dropping the first set in a tense tiebreak, but she improved on her return in the second, winning 73 per cent of points off the Frenchwoman’s second serve before running away with the match in the last.
“It’s been a rough one for me lately, so I’m really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow,” Stephens said in her post-match interview.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova was a major first-round casualty, going down 2-6 6-2 6-1 to France’s Alizé Cornet, who will next face 9th seed Petra Kvitova.
Danielle Collins got past yet another Frenchwoman, Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3 6-3, with the 40th-ranked American setting up a 2nd-round clash with 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova from Russia.
China’s Wang Qiang, ranked 38, also progressed despite dropping a set in a 6-1 3-6 6-3 tussle with Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.
Elsewhere, Jelena Ostapenko, Ana Kojuh and Sara Sorribes Tormo claimed dramatic wins to advance to the 2nd round on Day 2 at the Hard Rock Stadium.
Former Roland Garros champion Ostapenko led by a set and 3-1 but she had to bounce back from losing the second set in the tiebreak to edge Chinese teenager Wang Xiyu, 6-4 6-7(7) 6-1, in a rollercoaster match that took 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Ostapenko went up a double break to grab a 4-1 lead in the first set, but Wang pulled a break back in the 6th game, before the Latvian held serve to win it.
She built up a 3-1 lead at the start of the second, and came within just 2 points from the double break, but Wang again came back to win 4 consecutive games to take a 5-3 lead.
Ostapenko broke back, but 2 double-faults in the breaker gifted the set and they were forced into a decider.
After converting her 6th break point in the 2nd game of the third to take a 2-0 lead, Wang broke back before the Latvian scampered away with the win.
“It was important to win this match and to manage after losing the second set very close,” said Ostapenko. “I mean, she played really well.
“I felt she was not missing any balls and playing really aggressive.”
Croatian wild card Ana Konjuh clinched her first main draw win since Brisbane 2018 beating Czech Katerina Siniakova, 7-6(3) 7-5.
Konjuh rallied from 0-2 down and the next games went on serve en route to the tiebreak in which the Croatian delivered 3 aces on her way to taking it.
Although Siniakova got a double break to build up a 5-2 lead, Konjuh reeled off the last 5 games of the match to win the match in straight sets.
“I know every game in the first set was going to deuce, and she was just playing really well,” Konjuh said. “I knew she was going to give me a chance at one point so I just kept pushing.
“In the second set, it was my fault that I was down 2-5 – I made a few double-faults. I knew that if I found my level and didn’t make mistakes I could come back.”
Konjuh, whose 4th and most recent surgery in 2019 was an ulnar ligament reconstruction, has found herself sidelined while her Class of 1997 peers Ostapenko, Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic and Daria Kasatkina have racked up Grand Slam titles and Top 10 rankings, and hopes to make up for lost time.
Spain’s Sorribes Tormo faced down 2 match points, coming from 1-5 down to beat Bernarda Pera 6-2 2-6 7-5 after 2 hours and 41 minutes.
The American netted a volley on her first match point and missed a return on her second, while .Sorribes Tormo reeled off the last 6 games to claim the win on her 3rd match point with a serve and volley.
“I just remember one match point,” the 24-year old Sorribes Tormo said. “It was a really tough match.
“The score wasn’t real – either 5-1 for her in the third set, or 6-2 for me in the first. It was really closer [than that]. I just stayed and kept fighting, thinking that I could win and change the score.”
Sorribes Tormo continues her standout season that has seen her win her maiden WTA Tour title in Guadalajara two weeks ago, with the World No 58’s 2021 record now standing at 12-4.
The round of 64 will commence on Thursday, with 3rd seed Halep to face France’s Caroline Garcia, who got past another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-1 6-2.
Top seed Ash Barty will be in action against Slovakia’s Kristina Kucova, who saw off American qualifier Hailey Baptiste, 6-4 2-6 7-5, while 4th seed Sofia Kenin will take on former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic from Germany, a 7-5 6-1 winner over China’s Shuai Zheng.
Second seed Osaka has an assignment against 77th-ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, who dispatched Russia’s Anastasia Potapova, 7-5 6-0, while 14th seed Victoria Azarenka is already into the 3rd round with opponent Laura Siegemund, another German, withdrawing after her win on Tuesday.