Britain’s Harriet Dart is making a habit of getting into the main draws of WTA events as a lucky loser, having done so in Monterrey, where she up-ended compatriot Heather Watson en route to the Round of 16 of the WTA 250 event, and now, again, in Charleston at the Volvo Car Open being played at the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center.
No matter what, I'm always trying to play my game, come forward, be aggressive. On clay, you have to be a little more patient, and there's going to be bad bounces, and you just have to go with the flow. Caty McNally
In the qualifying Dart was the top seed and had little difficulty getting past American wildcard Rachel Gailis. Ranked No 148, surrendering just 4 points on her first serve, 23 for 27, in the efficient 6-1 6-2 win after 52 minutes.
She was then upset in the 2nd round by Grace Min of the United States, 6-2 6-2, in a rematch of their opening-round clash earlier this year in the main draw of the Australian Open, also won by Min, 7-5 6-2.
Replacing former Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic from Germany as a lucky loser, Dart took on the tricky Kazakh, 11th-seeded Yulia Putintseva, who outlasted her, 7-6(8) 6-4.
After Petkovic withdrew from the first round due to a lower back injury, Dart proved to be a formidable replacement as the Brit fended off one set point at 5-3 and two more at 6-5 to send the opening set into a tiebreak.
Putintseva, however, edged out the close breaker to take a one set lead after over an hour of play, then gritted through the second to line up a second-round encounter with another fellow Kazakh, Zarina Diyas, a 6-3 6-1 winner over Russian qualifier Natalia Vikhlyantseva.
American Caty McNally moved into the second round after the 19-year-old led Elena Rybakina by a set before the 10th-seed ed Kazakh retired due to illness due to illness.
In her tournament debut, the teenager took the topsy-turvy opening set 6-4 before Rybakina deemed herself unable to continue, gifting the 118th-ranked McNally career-best win in terms of ranking over the World No 23.
“I wish Elena a speedy recovery,” McNally said on court, after the match. “She’s obviously a great player, you can’t get to [Rybakina’s career-high] No 17 in the world without working so hard and being so good. I hope she gets better soon.”
The match started with McNally holding a whopping 10 break points in Rybakina’s first 2 service games.
McNally converted her 5th chance in the first game to go up an early break, but Rybakina saved another 5 in the 3rd to evade the double-break deficit.
The momentum then flipped, as Rybakina used powerful returns to break the American twice in succession and open up a 4-2 lead after winning 4 games in a row, but McNally’s aggressive passes and groundstrokes suddenly clicked into gear and she took command to claim the set via her own 4 game run.
“No matter what, I’m always trying to play my game, come forward, be aggressive,” McNally said. “On clay, you have to be a little more patient, and there’s going to be bad bounces, and you just have to go with the flow.”
After going down a set, Rybakina consulted with the medical trainers, and retired from the affair due to gastrointestinal illness, sending McNally into a second-round clash with either Anastasija Sevastova or Anastasia Potapova, who play on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Czech Marie Bouzkova, the No 17 seed, also had to fight back in a set before overcoming Timea Babos, 6-2 7-5, after the Hungarian led 4-0 in the second set.
Bouzkova won 6 of the last 7 games to seal her victory, although she needed 5 match points in the final game before prevailing.
The Czech, who was promoted to a seeded position after No 4 seed and former Charleston champion Kiki Bertens withdrew from the main draw due to an Achilles injury, next plays Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, a 6-3 6-0 winner over American Christina McHale.
No 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova from Russia made swifter passage into the second round, as she dispatched American qualifier Desirae Krawczyk, 6-1 6-2, in under an hour..
Krawczyk, a top-tier doubles player ranked World No 24 in that discipline, is unranked in singles and was playing her first singles event of the season.
Elsewhere, Amanda Anisimova, the 13th-seeded American, outlasted Poland’s Magda Linette, 5-7 6-2 6-3, while Japan’s Misaki Doi was a 6-3 6-3 winner over Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova, and sets up a meeting with top seed Ash Barty on Wednesday.
Local girl Shelby Rogers was just a wide-eyed ballgirl in 2001, aged 8, but already dreaming pro-tennis dreams.
Jennifer Capriati had just upset World No 1 Martina Hingis in the Charleston final, 6-0 4-6 6-4, and Rogers was tasked with delivering a bouquet of flowers to the victor, who told her: “You’re going to be able to play here one day.”
Rogers did, many times in fact, and reached the quarter-finals in 2017.
“To actually make it happen, it’s just a really cool story,” said Rogers, now into her 12th year on the WTA Tour. “It’s just a lot of years of hard work and dreaming about playing on that court.”
Rogers, 28, who rose to a career-high No 48 in 2017, takes France’s Kristina Mladenovic on Tuesday.
Joining Rogers in 1st-round action on Tuesday will be the 2016 winner, American Sloane Stephens, who will face lucky loser Xinyu Wang of China.
Should Stephens win, it will set a mouth-watering 2nd-round encounter with compatriot and defending champion Madison Keys in what would be a rematch of their 2017 US Open final.
Stephens isn’t looking past Wang just yet, as she is just 1-5 in win-losses this year, her lone win coming in the opening round of the Miami Open only days ago when she beat another Frenchwoman, Oceane Dodin, in 3 sets.
“Tennis is a very quick turnaround sport.,” said Stephens, ranked No 57. “You could be having the worst season of your life, then go win the French Open or win a Premier 500 and everything is back to normal.
“For myself, being realistic and knowing where I am, my game and what I need to work on, where I want to improve, that takes time.
“Tennis is a sport that takes time to kind of get your groove back, get your confidence back.
“It’s going to get better. No one stays in a rut for the rest of their life, or the rest of their career. At some point, the tables do turn.”
World No 13 Garbiñe Muguruza returns to Charleston for the first time since 2013, and the Spaniard arrives playing perhaps her most inspired tennis since claiming Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
She has already reached 3 finals in 2021, taking the title last month at the WTA 1000 in Dubai, and the 27-year-old now boasts a tour-best 20 match wins for the year.
“I don’t think I have a different approach,” she said. “I feel like I have the same attitude, the same spirit.
“I definitely have more experience. I think that’s key to my perspective more and more.
“The wins and losses are more acceptable once you get more mature, and it takes less energy.
“But, in general, it’s knowing myself more, knowing how I have to work, how I have to act and proceed in order to point myself in the right direction earlier than before.
“I would say it’s experience more than anything else.”
Muguruza will take on qualifier Magdalena Frech, after the Pole defeated fellow qualifier Grace Min from the US, 6-2 6-4.
One player who has managed to get the best of Muguruza in 2021 is Petra Kvitova, who will also play her Charleston opener on Tuesday when she faces qualifier Storm Sanders of Australia.
The two-time Wimbledon champ, ranked No. 11, downed Muguruza, 6-2 6-1, last month in the Qatar Total Open final in Doha and, should the seeds hold up, the Czech would meet the Spaniard in the quarter-finals.
Perhaps the most anticipated matchup on Tuesday’s lineup is No 14 seed Coco Gauff against Tsvetana Pironkova, which is the featured night match on the Althea Gibson Club Court.
The 17-year old American is making her debut on Charleston’s green clay, but she is no stranger to the stuff since she grew up playing on it in Florida.
“It’s going to be my first WTA tournament on green clay, so I’m excited for that,” said Gauff, who reached her first WTA 500 semi in Adelaide and first WTA 1000 quarterfinal in Dubai earlier this year.
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