Top seed Aryna Sabalenka took nearly 2 hours to outlast Alison Riske in her opener at the Credit One Charleston Open in South Carolina on Wednesday, while Paula Badosa and Karolina Pliskova, the 2nd and 3rd seeds both also advanced, but 4th-seeded Ons Jabeur’s match was suspended before lightning and heavy rain hit the clay-court facility.
I feel good. I have to say the wrist is quite holding up... It's been too long for me because with the off-season together, I missed four or five months. I know I'm not the player which can have five months at home and then I come in and win a tournament. I need some time to go through the feelings and the matches. I know it's going to take time, but just happy to be back. Karolina Pliskova
It was Sabalenka’s first win since late February, getting past the American, 7-6(3) 6-4, after the start of play was delayed by the weather.
Sabalenka lost her opening matches at both Indian Wells and Miami after falling to the new World No 1 Iga Swiatek in quarter-finals at Qatar 6 weeks ago.
She was well challenged by Riske, a former Top 20 player, and the first set nearly got away from her when 4 set points slipped away at 5-4 as the American dragged matters into a decisive first-set tiebreak, where Sabalenka converted her 6th set point when Riske miscued her volley long.
After the 64-minute opener, Sabalenka had things under control in the second, and went up 5-2 but, again, she failed to close out the match in that game, and Riske eased herself back to 5-4, holding 4 break points in that game to level the set.
Sabalenka, though, used her power game to its greatest effect when it counted most, swatting those chances away and gritting out the hold to collect her win.
Next up for Sabalenka is another American, 15th seed Amanda Anisimova, in the Round of 16, who has won both of their previous meetings, at the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2019.
Anisimova easily dispatched Yulia Putinseva from Kazakstan, 61 6-2.
Later in the day, Badosa also made the Last 16 with a 6-1 6-4 win over Hungary’s Anna Bondar, last year’s semi-finalist overcoming a mid-match rain delay before prevailing in an hour and 35 minutes.
A speedy first set was followed by a much tighter affair in the second, where Bondar fought back from an early break down, but Badosa prevailed on her 5th break point of a long game to go up 5-4, and served out the match from there.
Awaiting the Spaniard in the Round of 16 is 2017 Junior Wimbledon singles champion Claire Liu of the United States, after the World No 89 Liu upset No 16 seed Zhang Shuai from China, 7-5 2-6 6-4, on Wednesday.
Despite the disparity between their current rankings, Liu has beaten Badosa in both of their professional meetings, both on clay in the final of an ITF Challenger event in Caserta, Italy in 2017, and again in Bucharest qualifying in 2018.
Pliskova, a former World No 1, was made to work hard but finally notched up her first win of the 2022 season by outlasting Ukraine’s Katarina Zavatska, 5-7 7-5 6-4, after 2 hours and 48 minutes in a match played across two days.
The Czech, who missed the start of the season after injuring her right hand in practice before the Australian swing, was seeking a win and Zavatska came desperately close to extending her drought after taking the first set.
A freak accident in the gym during the off-season resulted in a broken arm, and the 30-year-old Czech had to put off the start of her season for two months.
“I feel good,” she said. “I have to say the wrist is quite holding up.
“ didn’t really expect it because I didn’t really practice full. I would normally practice for a month but I just had a couple of days of really good practice before coming to Indian Wells. The serve was the biggest issue.
“It’s been too long for me because with the offseason together, I missed four or five months. I know I’m not the player which can have five months at home and then I come in and win a tournament.
“I need some time to go through the feelings and the matches. I know it’s going to take time, but just happy to be back.”
A rain delay forced the players to come back out on Wednesday, when Zavatska claimed a crucial break in the second set and served for the match at 5-4, but Pliskova rallied to level proceedings.
Four straight breaks in the middle of the decider did little to clear up the outcome but, at 5-4, Pliskova grabbed her chance, forcing errors from the Zavatska backhand to earn one last service break and clinch the long-awaited victory.
Weather continued to be a problem as the match between 4th-seeded Jabeur and American Emma Navarro was suspended with the Tunisian leading 6-3, 5-2 before the players left the court, and they will continue on Thursday.
No 5 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan was not as fortunate, falling to Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, 6-4 2-6 6-4, after 2 hours and 18 minutes.
Kalinina, the World No 42, hit a new career-high ranking this week, and continued her rise with her first win over a Top 20 opponent in her career.
She will go for a second consecutive upset over a seed when she takes on 12th-seeded Alizé Cornet from France, a 6-3 6-2 winner over American Hailey Baptiste.
Other seeded winners included Americans Jessica Pegula, seeded 6, and Madison Keys, the 9th seed, as well as No 10 Belinda Bencic from Switzerland.
Pegula ousted Italian Jasmine Paolini, 6-2 6-1, while Keys beat Norway’s Ulrikke Eikeri, 6-3 6-1.
The 6th seed completed her swift win in a just over an hour and will face fellow American CoCo Vandeweghe in the Round of 16 after the 30-year-old battled past compatriot Lauren Davis, 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Keys was supposed to start on Tuesday night until bad weather postponed her match.
“I didn’t want things to kind of get off track after having that sort of delay,” said Keys, who won this event in 2019. “So I was just super focused in the first couple of games and felt like my level raised.”
Keys was not thrown off by an hour-long rain break on Wednesday, and took just 68 minutes to put the youngster away.
“I was just happy I was first on, and was able to get my match finished,” added Keys. “Started a little bit nervous, but I think I played into the match pretty well, and felt pretty comfortable out there.
“Just happy I had a kind of straightforward win today.”
Bencic, who won Olympic gold in Tokyo, took out 16-year old Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, 6-1 7-6(6).
The teenage sensation is up to a career-high ranking of 188 after a run to the Miami Open Round of 16, but Bencic stopped her run in an hour and 39 minutes, making it into the Round of 16 here for the 3rd time.
The Swiss had to battle in the second set, though, as Fruhvirtova built an early 3-0 lead and served for the set at 5-4, but Bencic broke in that game before holding on in the tiebreak to prevent a third-set showdown.
Next up for Bencic will be an encounter against the player directly in front of her in the seedings, 2019 Charleston champion Keys, who leads their head-to-head 2-1.
Three other seeded players lost on Wednesday, with No 14 Ajla Tomljanovic from Australia going down to Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania, 6-2 6-3, while Zhang Shuai, the No 16 from China, lost 7-5 2-6 6-4 to Claire Liu from the USA.
Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi dispatched Poland’s Magdalena Frech, 7-5 6-3, notching up a whopping 14 break points in the match and converting just 3 of them, while Frech won 1 out of her 4 break point chances.
The Pole served up 6 aces to Kanepi’s 1, and committed just 3 double-faults but her first serve percentage was 58 percent to the Estonian’s 66 percent, while the Pole only won 38 percent of her second service points, compared with Kanepi’s 76 percent.
In round three, Kanepi next faces either World No 19 Leylah Fernandez from Canada or another Polish player, Magda Linette, ranked 64,.
The season’s first clay-court event had a full schedule after several of Tuesday’s matches were wiped out due to rain and severe weather in the area.
Organisers may have trouble catching up on Thursday as further rain is forecast into the afternoon.