On the opening day when top seed Elena Rybakina withdrew from the WTA500 tournament, 3 Brits lined up in the main draw of the Rothesay International at Eastbourne, with both Harriet Dart and Jodie Burrage making it into the 2nd-round with impressive wins over Zhang Shuai and Lauren Davis, while Katie Boulter, the British No 1, faces Croatian lucky loser Petra Martic in her 1st-round match on Tuesday.
I wasn’t just playing my opponent, I was playing myself as well at times, which was a disaster. The conditions were really tough, the wind was going everywhere. It took me a while to adapt, but I’m really happy to get through. It wasn’t easy, but I kept trying to tell myself to keep going after it, and, if she plays too good tennis then that’s too good. I’m really happy I was able to close it in the end. Harriet Dart
A viral illness forced Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion from Kazakstan, out of contention, while Daria Kasatkina, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys all advanced to round 2.
The Kazakhstan No 1 revealed that her efforts to get back to full training had been frustrated by the illness, which kept her confined to her hotel room in Paris for several days after pulled out of her 3rd-round match at Roland Garros.
She returned to action in Berlin last week, but lost to eventual finalist Donna Vekic from Croatia, in a flat performance in the 2nd-round.
“At the French Open after I withdrew I went back to the hotel and it was even worse so I had to stay in Paris for a few days not leaving the room,”Rybakina said in a statement issued on Monday. “I started my preparation week after just slowly starting and it was tough since it was a virus.
“So I still think that I’m not 100 per cent physically where I want to be but slowly it’s getting better and hopefully I can get some more matches here and feel more comfortable at Wimbledon.”
A semi-finalist in Eastbourne in 2021, Rybakina had been scheduled to play Wang Xiyu on the first day of main-draw action, and her subsequent withdrawal resulted in a reshuffle of the draw before the start of play, with Barbora Krejcikova, a finalist last week in Birmingham, moving into her position as the No 10 seed, who will face Wang instead.
Meanwhile, Dart, the British No 4 who received a wild-card to play Eastbourne, had to dig deep to get past Zhang in challenging conditions, 7-5 6-7(5) 6-1, having battled from 2-4 down to take the first set, breaking serve to go 6-5 up before holding out to take a deserved lead.
She served for the match in the second, but was broken at 5-4, and again at 6-5, a poor volley and a dead net-cord handing the break back to Zhang and forcing a tiebreak that the Chinese player dominated.
Dart smashed her racket into the grass court, for which she received a rare code violation, but she bounced back to sweep through the decider to snag her 3rd Top 40 scalp of the grass court season.
A strong wind had caused issues for both, but it was Dart who managed the conditions better.
“That was quite a roller-coaster,” said the 26-year old from Hampstead. “I wasn’t just playing my opponent, I was playing myself as well at times, which was a disaster.
“The conditions were really tough, the wind was going everywhere. It took me a while to adapt, but I’m really happy to get through.
“It wasn’t easy, but I kept trying to tell myself to keep going after it, and, if she plays too good tennis then that’s too good. I’m really happy I was able to close it in the end.”
Once again, Dart showed the grit and determination that took her to the quarter-finals of the LTA’s Rothesay Open in Nottingham and the Rothesay Classic Birmingham.
“You can’t control how your opponent plays, and how the wind is,” she said. “During the points the wind was crazy, and some of the shots we were both hitting were a bit insane, but I always love coming back to Eastbourne, I got my first win here back in 2018, and the crowd are always great.”
Dart next faces the winner of the 1st-round match between Czech Petra Kvitova, the No 7 seed, and Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, both of whom lifted silverware in Berlin and Birmingham on Sunday.
A little later in the afternoon, Burrage joined Dart in round 2 after being called to fill in as a lucky loser after Maria Sakkari and Marketa Vondrousova withdrew due to a change in schedule.
Burrage, the British No 2 who lost to Jasmine Paolini from Italy in the 2nd-round of qualifying on Sunday, had checked out of her hotel and was halfway home when she got the call.
She was due to pick up her black Labrador, Otto, from her parents’ house and, instead of turning around immediately, stayed the night in Surrey in order to decide whether to play through niggling injuries to her shoulder, or rest ahead of Wimbledon.
Burrage opted to play, and drove 2 hours back to Eastbourne in the morning of her match, in which she had to come from a set down to beat Davis, an American ranked 84 places above her.
“I really want to get going earlier in matches so I don’t have to keep coming back from a set down!” Burrage said. “I keep fighting, keep putting myself out there.
“That’s what got me through today. My mentality got me through today.”
Burrage awaits the winner of the match between 5th-seeded Coco Gauff and Bernarda Pera in an all-American encounter on Tuesday, and a win could boost her ranking into the Top 100.
Kasatkina, the No 9 seed from Russia, opened against Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina as the replacement match for Rybakina’s on Centre Court, rolling to a 6-3 6-1 win in 64 minutes.
“Of course I’m happy to get my first win on grass [this year],” Kasatkina said after her win. “As many matches as you can play on grass, it’s good and counts. I’m really happy with my performance today and really looking forward for the next match.”
Kasatkina defeated Kalinina for the 3rd time in their 4 meetings, striking 21 winners to the Ukrainian’s 13, and winning exactly two-thirds of points when returning the Kalinina second service.
The Russian received a warm welcome on her return to the UK after having been barred from playing the grass court season here last year, including missing Wimbledon, which was a decision she understood and accepted.
Outspoken against the war in Ukraine, Kasatkina is sympathetic towards the plight of all Ukrainians, and accepts the need for players from that country to not shake hands with Russians.
At the French Open crowd Kasatkina was booed for not shaking hands with Elina Svitolina, and she was very unhappy about it.
“Well, of course it was a bit tough to leaving Roland Garros, my favourite tournament, the way I was leaving the court,” Kasatkina said in Eastbourne. “But I understand that, maybe, in France, the fans there not so much involved in the situation, like they do here in UK, so that’s my explanation.
“Of course, feels much better to experience something like I experienced today, that, I mean, because the situation is pretty obvious,” Kasatkina added of her warm reception. “The stand of the players from Ukraine was pretty clear, and we have to accept it, and respect this position.
“Yeah, we have to do it, and also fans they have to expect this. Yeah, was glad to have this kind of reaction here.”
Kasatkina will face Pliskova, the two-time Eastbourne champion from Czech Republic, in the 2nd-round, who earlier moved past Elise Mertens, 6-7(3) 6-3, 3-0, RET, after the Belgian withdrew with a left hip injury.
The former World No 1 won the Eastbourne title in 2017 and 2019, and has won 2 of her 3 meetings with Kasatkina.
Another former champion, Madison Keys of the United States, won Monday’s late 1st-rounder, defeating lucky loser Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 7-6(4) 6-4.
The World No 25, who won the Eastbourne title in 2014 as a 19-year-old, fired 9 aces on her way to her win over 113th-ranked Martincova.
The Czech held 2 set points at 5-3 in the first set, but Keys erased those chances before taking the one-set lead after a tiebreak.
Keys also came back from an early break down in the second, winning 6 of the last 8 games in the 1-hour and 43-minute clash.
In other Monday results, Colombia’s Camila Osorio defeated American Shelby Rogers, 6-4 6-4; and Ana Bogdan from Romania outlasted her compatriot Sorana Cirstea, 6-3 2-6 6-3.