Sofia Kenin, Madison Keys and Leylah Fernandez were among the winners on Tuesday as the 1st-round of main draw matches was completed at the Credit One Charleston Open, the WTA 500 event in South Carolina, while Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka and Anna Kalinskaya made it into the Round of 16.
Starting off on a good foot is really important normally. But especially so, when you're playing someone young, and someone in front of a home crowd. Madison Keys
Kenin, a former Australian Open champion wild-carded into the draw, was a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-1 winner over Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus in a rain-interrupted match, after play was held over because of a downpour Monday night when the American was ahead 3-0 in the deciding set.
“I wish we would have finished yesterday so I could have the day off,” said Kenin, who plays No 15 seed Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania for a spot in the Round of 16.
Her compatriot, Keys, also grabbed an early lead in her opening match against fellow American Emma Navarro, the 2021 NCAA singles champion whose father owns the green-clay tournament and is a local favourite.
Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, breezed into round 2 with a 6-4 6-3 win over the wild-card after going 4-0 up in hot temperatures in one of 5 all-American matches in the opening round.
“Starting off on a good foot is really important normally,” said Keys, who won the Charleston title in 2019 and is seeded No 9 this year, “But especially so, when you’re playing someone young, and someone in front of a home crowd.”
She finished the match with a 7-0 edge in aces, while converting 4 of 5 break points she generated and saving 4 of 5 she faced.
“She came out playing really aggressively,” said the 21-year-old Navarro, who is ranked a career-best 118th this week. “I was knocked back a little bit at the beginning.
“I think that, combined with some nerves, kind of set me back a little bit.”
Her father, Ben, is a local billionaire who bought the Charleston tournament in 2018 and whose company also owns the Western & Southern Open in Ohio.
“It’s cool to play someone who I’ve watched when they were at this level, and I wasn’t,” Navarro said. “So, yeah, to be able to play against her was cool for me. Definitely a learning experience.”
Keys hit 29 winners, including 7 aces, and broke serve 4 times to improve her all time record to 18-8 in Charleston.
“I absolutely love playing here,” she said. “I can’t believe I’ve been here every single year for 10 years straight now.
“I am so happy to be back. I love coming here; the fan support’s amazing, and the entire tournament, everyone who’s involved, are some of my favourite people in the world, so it’s always a stop on my schedule.”
20-year old Fernandez, who hails from Montreal, beat Russia’s returning mother-of-two, Evgeniya Rodina, 6-3 6-2, striking 3 aces and winning 4 break points en route to her win on the Althea Gibson Club Court.
Fernandez, ranked 51 in the world, now faces the No 12 seed Paula Badosa from Spain, who began the day’s schedule in the main Credit One Stadium with a 6-3 6-1 win against Egypt’s Mayar Sherif.
Charleston is historically a happy-hunting ground for Badosa, and the Spaniard produced one of her cleanest performances of the year against Sherif, taking an hour and 32 minutes to accomplish her task.
A semi-finalist here in 2021, Badosa scored her first win over a reigning World No 1 along the way with an upset of Ash Barty, and was also a quarter-finalist in 2022.
“It’s impossible to forget,” she told the crowd. “I was No 70 in the world, and this is where it all started.”
This year, Badosa arrives in Charleston seeking to arrest a slide down the rankings after hitting a career high of No 2 just under a year ago.
She since has fallen to 29, although she was able to navigate the danger of Sherif’s shot-making with a consistent display.
“I had a lot of days from Miami to here to practice,” Badosa said wryly, referencing her 3rd-round exit to Elena Rybakina in Florida. “So I really worked very hard. I’m playing well, I think. I hope it starts here again.”
Another home-grown American, Shelby Rogers, who has also beaten Barty as well as Serena Williams in a final-set tiebreak, plus Rybakina on the grass, is short of a title.
On Tuesday afternoon, with the full support of a home crowd, she took a step towards the possibility again, with a 6-7(2) 6-4 6-1 upset win over compatriot Danielle Collins, the 13th seed, in 2 hours 11 minutes.
“It’s really humbling, and makes me just want to keep going, work harder and try to do the best that I can,” said the 30-year old of her supporting fans. “And the kids that come up and say, you know, thank you for being the person that you are, which means more to me than anything I could do on court with tennis.”
While Rogers landed a far lower percentage of first serves than Collins, she won way more first-serve points, 74.1% to 59.6%.
Collins has struggled somewhat this season and her ranking has dropped to No 40 as a result, but the contest between her and Rogers, ranked 44, was extremely tight, and it took a tiebreak to settle the first set, and, after Rogers lost it, Collins levelled.
In the decider, emotions most often associated with Collins surfaced in Rogers, which pushed her through.
“Her serve was on fire today,” Rogers said. “She can play super aggressive, and hit a winner whenever she wants.”
At 4-1 in the 3rd set, it was Rogers who broke again to love with two return winners.
Although she has never been ranked higher than 30th, Shelby is a dangerous floater in any draw, a giant-killed that no-one wants to meet.
“You can never really take too much over from past experiences, to what’s going to happen in the future,” Rogers reflected. “So we just try to treat it as a new match, a new day—anything could happen, right?
“There’s nothing that Charleston hasn’t seen me do on the court,” she added. “And so I’m at a place now where I feel I can just go out and be free, be myself, play my game.
“So I would say the pressure just comes from myself. You know, it doesn’t come from anyone off the court. And that’s just me wanting to perform and put on a good show for everyone.”
In other 1st-round results on Tuesday, Bernarda Pera beat Claire Liu, 6-4 6-7(1) 6-3 in a match-up between another pair of Americans, while Caty McNally, also from the US, was a 6-4 6-1 over Germany’s Jule Niemeier, Russia’s Varvara Gracheva stopped qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam, also German, 7-6(3) 6-1, and Spain’s Cristina Bucsa upset Marie Bouzkova, the 16th seed, 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-1.
Hailey Baptiste, the America qualifier who eliminated Heather Watson in the 2nd-round of qualifying, continued her run with a 6-2 6-3 win over Wang Xiyu from China, and Caroline Dolehide, also American, halted German qualifier Sabine Lisicki’s progress, 6-4 6-4.
The three 2nd-round matches completed on Tuesday, included No 2 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, the runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, leading the charge by beating Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, 6-3 6-3.
Jabeur is the World No 5, and she had little trouble with Tsurenko, ranked 77, as she finds her feet on the clay after minor knee surgery in January.
She reached the final here last year, and the semi-finals the year before that, when she also reached the final of a WTA 250 event held at the same site in 2021.
During her 1-hour 28-minute win over Tsurenko, she now boasts a 13-3 win-loss record in Charleston over the last 3 years.
Jabeur’s crafty shot-making started early with an error-forcing tweener in the 3rd game of the match, and the unfortunate Tsurenko, a former Top 30 player and 2017 US Open quarter-finalist, took a tumble on the court and took a medical time-out during the first set, but she did pull back from 0-5 down to 5-3 before the Tunisian closed out the one-set lead.
Tsurenko’s slice backhands and accurate hitting kept her in the second as well, but Jabeur’s frequent drop-shots and big serves at key moments helped her stay ahead on the way to the win.
Jabeur saved 5 of the 7 break points she faced in the match, while converting 5 of her 13 break points, and her 22 winners, compared to just 9 from Tsurenko, allowed the Tunisian to get her play on the clay off to a flying start.
This being the month of Ramadan, Jaber, a Muslim, is also contending with fasting, eating and drinking only before dawn and after sunset.
“Ramadan happens to be the same time as Charleston,” Jabeur explained. “Hopefully, in a few years, when Ramadan changes from the date of Charleston, I will be able to enjoy it [the food] more.
“I’ve been gluten-free since Indian Wells,” Jabeur added. “It will be difficult when I go home, because there is no gluten-free couscous.”
Victoria Azarenka also won an evening clash over Sloane Stephens to make the Round of 16, the 6th-seeded Belarusian taking out the American former US Open champion, 3-6 6-3 6-2.
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is playing in Charleston for the first time since 2010.
Seeking her first trip to the quarter-finals of the event, she will meet Anna Kalinskaya in the Round of 16, in their first meeting, after the Russian defeated Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, 7-6(4) 4-6 6-2 earlier on Tuesday.