Top seed Ons Jabeur dropped just one game to reach the semi-final at the MUSC Health Women’s Open in Charleston on Friday, but there was disappointment for the No 3 seed, Shelby Rogers, who battled an abdominal strain and Clara Tauson, forced to retire injured.
“I’m happy to be in the semi-finals, but not like this... It was really strange for me and I didn’t know what to say, but I was really sorry it had to end like that. I know it’s tough to be injured and unable to play. It was tough to see her like that, crying. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano
Rogers was clearly not at her best as she took on Danka Kovinic, one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour at the moment, having reached the final of the Volvo Car Open last week at LTP Daniel Island last Sunday.
Kovinic, whose 8 wins on clay this season are the most on tour, is playing some of the best tennis of her career., while her 9 match victories this year are more than she had in 2019 and 2020 combined, at 7.
“I was really missing very little today,” said the 26-year-old from Montenegro. “Basically, every return I was getting back in the court, and I didn’t give her any free points.
“I think that is where she was getting a little bit down in her game, because I was like everywhere on the court.”
Rogers’ serve, normally her big weapon, was subpar against Kovinic, who rose from No 91 to No 65 in WTA rankings after her showing at the Volvo Car Open.
Only making just 34.4 percent of her first serves in the first set and 37.5 percent for the match, with only two aces, the 28-year old American bowed out, 7-5 6-1.
“I’ve had a little ab strain, so I wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Rogers admitted. “I tried my best … It’s unfortunate, but take nothing away from her. She played great today, and she’s playing super confident. She definitely deserved to be in the next round.
“That’s a big part of my game, so it’s tough not to have that but, again, she’s playing super confident right now and having a great trip to Charleston, and that clearly showed today.”
Kovinic will face a rematch with Jabeur in the semi-finals after the Tunisian demolished Japan’s Nao Hibino 6-0 6-1 in 48 minutes.
“Hopefully, she will play a little bit less drop shots,” Kovinic said, laughing. “In the last match, it was way too much. I think definitely [it will give] me some confidence, knowing that I beat her last week here on the same court.”
Dating back to her 6-4 6-0 victory over American Alycia Parks on Thursday, Jabeur reeled off 20 straight games before Hibino broke through at 6-0, 5-0.
In their previous meeting in the semis last week, Kovinic beat Jabeur, 6-3 6-2.
“I’m definitely going for my revenge,” Jabeur said. “I’m going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win. I will be brave and not let the stress play the match for me.”
The highly-anticipated quarter-final between teen talents Clara Tauson and Maria Camila Osorio Serrano ended, unfortunately, in injury for the Dane, who retired after aggravating an already-strapped left knee, trailing the Colombian, 6-4, 1-0.
“I’m happy to be in the semi-finals, but not like this,” Osorio Serrano said in her post-match press conference.
Both have been impressive in the post-Australian Open swing, each capturing their first WTA titles, Tauson in Lyon and Osorio Serrano in Bogotá.
After an entertaining opening set, an awkward landing on Tauson’s serve led to the match’s premature conclusion after 58 minutes on Althea Gibson Club Court when the Dane retired.
“There’s not much to talk about with this match, but in general, I think I’m doing great,” Osorio Serrano added. “I couldn’t have expected to make it so far this week, but I’m playing better and with more confidence with every match.
“It’s helping me a lot and I’m proud of what I’m doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but as always, I’ll do my best.”
Osorio Serrano took a 7-match winning streak into Friday’s quarters, having won her title at home just last week, and had been victorious when she and good friend Tauson last faced off as juniors.
Despite two titanic matches earlier in the tournament, the 19-year-old Colombian was quick out of the gates with a 4-1 advantage.
“She’s so fun and such a nice person,” she said. “She’s one of my friends on tour, and is actually one of my only friends because I just started playing on tour!
“We keep in touch sometimes and when we win matches and tournaments, we’re always so happy for each other. That made this match tough for me.”
Tauson’s power soon overwhelmed Osorio Serrano’s spin as the Dane levelled proceedings at 4 games apiece.
Serving to stay in the set, the 18-year-old landed hard on her left leg, leading her to call for a medical time out during the subsequent changeover.
Battling through the start of the second, Tauson couldn’t ultimately outrun the pain and forfeited the match in tears.
Osorio Serrano embraced her friend at net and continued to comfort Tauson in a moving display.
“I don’t even remember what I said, just that it was ok and I hoped she feels better,” she said. “I was so shocked because that’s never happened to me before; no one has ever retired in a match against me.
“It was really strange for me and I didn’t know what to say, but I was really sorry it had to end like that. I know it’s tough to be injured and unable to play.
“It was tough to see her like that, crying.”
Another win edges her closer to a Top 100 debut, which she could achieve should she win the title, and cites a mix of factors behind her fairytale fortnight.
“This may sound funny, but I believe a lot in God, and that he’s the key to everything in my life,” she said.
“He’s the one taking me to all these good places, but I’ve also done a lot of work myself on my mentality.
“I used to get mad a lot when I was playing; I used to think I was too good, and when I missed a ball, I would get mad and frustrated. I would start playing bad and even give up, so lately I’ve been trying not to do that, play every point as good as I can.”
Osorio Serrano next faces Australia’s Astra Sharma, a 6-4 6-3 winner over 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova, against Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.
“Linda is such a talented player. She is so young and already playing an amazing level,” Sharma said after her 1 hour 24 minute win.
“I’m really proud. I’ve had a rough start to the season and this is just amazing for me to be here and get some back-to-back wins and consolidate, so I’m really happy with the progress that I’ve made.”
Sharma, 25, was born in Singapore and plays under the Australian flag.
She advanced from her 3rd career WTA quarter-final in style and, previously, she made the final at 2019 Bogotá. She is 5-4 in matches for 2021.
“I think I’ve just kept it very simple, tried to use my physicality on court,” she told reporters later. “Really, trying to push the opponents around.
“I think I’ve always utilised that well in a defensive way, but I’m trying to using that more offensively.”
To this point, doubles has been Sharma’s area of expertise. She and John-Patrick Smith reached the mixed doubles final at the 2019 Australian Open and made the semi-finals in 2020.
Sharma has collected 7 career ITF singles and 4 doubles titles but, before that, she was an All-America player at Vanderbilt University.
“The way I’m trying to play, where there’s a lot more transition stuff, doubles is perfect for that,” Sharma said.
After beating one teenager, is she looking forward to taking down another?
“I honestly don’t really look at the age,” Sharma said. “In fact, she might be fresher than me because she has so much younger legs.
“I’m really looking forward to playing her tomorrow. It will be a really good challenge.”