Tuesday was a day of tumbling seeds in the women’s draw at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, as the defending champion, Kiki Bertens led the line to the exit doors.
I just tried not to go too big, because I can go so big and I have a lot of power and it's not always easy to control it Venus Williams
Bertens battled for two hours to find a way past former World No1 Venus Williams, but was pipped at the post in the third set tiebreak, 6-3 3-6 7-6(4).
“I’m playing at home and we know [Bertens is] playing great tennis, so that was cool,” Williams said, during her post-match press conference. “For me, it’s just round by round.
“I have a third round to play. To be honest, every player I play plays amazing. She was no less than that.
“It was pretty hot. You just have to keep focused on hopefully keeping your feet going.
“I’m not sure how she felt about the heat, but, you know, I think we were playing at probably the toughest slot during the day. We had to be superheroes out there.”
This was Williams’s second Top 5 victory of the season, alongside her win over then-No.3 Petra Kvitova at Indian Wells.
Bertens had 11 aces and won 71 percent of points on her first serve, but Williams was more effective on second serve, winning 55 percent of those points, while Bertens only won 42 percent of her second-service points.
“I just tried not to go too big, because I can go so big and I have a lot of power and it’s not always easy to control it,” Williams stated
“So I’m trying to play smart instead of going hog wild, which is extremely easy to do.”
Williams lives on to play Victoria Azarenka in the third round after the 2013 Cincinnati champion moved past No12 seed Belinda Bencic, who retired due to a left foot injury while the Swiss trailed 6-4 1-0.
“I know all about injuries and how frustrating it is, and especially right before the last major of the year,” Azarenka said, during her post-match press conference. “I hope [Bencic] recovers quick.”
Former World No 1 Azarenka had defeated Bencic in their only prior meeting, at Wimbledon in 2015, and extended her head-to-head lead to 2-0 after former Top 10 player Bencic ended the match after 50 minutes of play.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka had 8 winners and a matching number of unforced errors during the clash, while Bencic’s 15 winners were overcome by her 19 unforced errors.
Azarenka converted 4 of the 5 break points she held in the match.
“I think that she started, you know, really well,” Azarenka admitted. “In the beginning she was very aggressive, which I didn’t necessarily expect that from the get-go.
“I feel that she’s the type of player that is more about redirecting the ball, using your pace and mixing it up. So that was a little surprising.”
“But I felt that I fought back well in that first set and took my opportunities, put a lot of pressure on her,” Azarenka continued.
“Served smarter than the beginning. I moved quite well. I felt there was a lot of good rallies we had today.”
Madison Keys of the United States fought through a closely-contested first-round match before overcoming 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 6-7(4) 7-6(5) 6-4, improving her career record against the Spaniard to 3-1 after prevailing on a toasty afternoon in two hours and 20 minutes of gruelling groundstroke play.
“It’s really great,” Keys said, after her win. “Obviously losing last week in two tiebreaks in the last two sets was really, really tough, so being able to get that second set and then closing it out without going to a tiebreak in the third was really great.”
Keys was thrilled to move through after her first-round loss to Donna Vekic in Toronto the week prior.
“Even last week, I fought really hard to stay in that match, and did my best, and I could have gone away after not closing it out,” said the 2017 US Open finalist.
“I’m proud of how I handled that situation, but it also feels really good to get a win today.”
Keys slammed 56 winners, including 13 aces, and 52 unforced errors during the match, while Muguruza fired just 9 winners to 25 unforced errors in total.
It saw Keys earn revenge on Muguruza, who knocked her out of Cincinnati in the third round the last time the pair met at the tournament in 2017, despite holding 3 match points.
“I totally forgot I had match points, so thanks for reminding me,” she joked after the match.
“I was just really happy to be able to fight back in that second set and get back into the match.
“It definitely gives me confidence. I think I not only mentally picked myself up but I started playing better in the second and third sets.”
Meanwhile, Kvitova faced Greece’s Maria Sakkari and fell in three sets.
Playing just her second tournament since May and her first since Wimbledon after being plagued by a left arm injury, Kvitova could not overcome both her own rust, and the varied play by the Greek No 1 around the court.
Sakkari recorded her fourth Top 10 victory of the year on Tuesday night, as she downed No 6 seed in the second round, 6-4 2-6 6-3.
After winning the first set, Sakkari found herself ultimately down a break in the decider against the two-time Wimbledon champion, but won five of the last six games to seal a second win in three meetings against the Czech this year.
“She’s an unbelievable player. There’s no doubt…she plays extremely fast and puts you in a position where you feel uncomfortable with your tennis,” Sakkari said on-court after the match.
“I just fought hard and made a lot of balls. Fighting hard, that’s my spirit. I feel really good and very confident to be playing against these players. A few years ago, I was just watching them on TV back home.
“I never thought I would be here, playing against them and winning against them. It’s a dream coming true for me.”
For the second week running, Kontaveit scored a victory over a Grand Slam champion and a former World No 1 on the North American hard courts.
After beating Maria Sharapova in an epic first round clash at the Rogers Cup, the Estonian defeated No 13 seed Angelique Kerber in straight sets in the first round, 7-6(7) 6-2.
Making her debut in Cincinnati, the World No 20 rallied from a deficit in the first set tiebreak, as she seemed primed to fall behind by a set after leading by an early break twice.
The Estonian came from 5-3 down, and saved a set point at 6-5, to come through a close opener, and later broke the German twice to win second set at a canter.
Kontaveit won the first 9 points behind her serve in the second set, as she notched a pair of love holds to lead 4-0, and erased the lone break point she faced in the set in what became the final game of the match.
The Estonian will next face Polish qualifier Iga Swiatek, who defeated Caroline Garcia in straight sets on Monday to advance.
Kontaveit’s upset was the big statement victory around the grounds on Tuesday, but several lower-ranked players also sprung surprises on higher-ranked opponents.
World No 30 Hsieh Su-wei defeated World No 17 Wang Qiang in straight sets, 6-3 6-4, while World No 41 Daria Kasatkina upended Wimbledon semi-finalist Barbora Strycova, 6-4 7-6(9), in over two hours to reach the second round.
Also advancing were Sofia Kenin, who held off German Julia Goerges, 6-4 7-6(6); Jennifer Brady, who won a battle of qualifiers against Ons Jabeur, 6-2 6-2; and China’s Wang Yafan, who rallied from 6-3 5-3 down to beat Monica Puig, 3-6 7-5 6-3 in a match of two lucky losers.
Serena Williams withdrew from the Cincinnati Masters in a fresh twist after breaking down in the Rogers Cup final, citing the same back problem which forced her to pull out of the Rogers Cup final at the weekend.
The American was due to face Zarina Diyas in the first round in Ohio on Tuesday and her latest setback places her in some doubt for the US Open.
“I am so sad to withdraw … I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning,” she said on the WTA site.
“But unfortunately my back is still not right and I know I should not take to the court.”
The 23-time Grand Slam winner retired while trailing 3-1 against Bianca Andreescu in Toronto as a Canadian woman took the Rogers Cup for the first time in 50 years.