Americans prevailed in the top half of the draw at the Miami Open Presented by Itaú on Thursday as Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Danielle Collins and Claire Liu reached the 3rd-round, while the only seed to fall was Daria Kasatkina at the hands of Elise Mertens.
It's a really cool story, and it's fun when I get to come here and watch the team play a football game and then I get to come back and play a tennis match. The owners of the Dolphins, even though they're also competing against each other, they also think it's really cool that I get to come back here and play a tennis event, and everyone's pretty friendly with each other as well in the NFL sides of ownership. Jessica Pegula
Pegula, the World No 3 eased past Canada’s Katherine Sebov, 6-3 6-1, to face Collins, her fellow American, who is seeded No 30 and defeated Bulgarian Lucky Loser Viktoriya Tomova, 7-6(3) 6-2.
Gauff, the 6th seed, opened her 2023 Miami Open campaign with a 6-4 6-3 win over another Canadian, Rebecca Marino, while Liu, who is unseeded, was a 6-4 6-3 winner over over Lucky Loser Julia Grabher from Austria.
Pegula made the Miami Open semi-finals last year and is among the favourites to win the tournament after World No 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek from Poland pulled out because of a rib injury.
“I had to adjust my game plan a little bit in that first set, and then was able to close it out pretty easily,” Pegula said after her 65 minute win over Sebov.
She is very familiar with the Hard Rock Stadium since outside of the Buffalo Bills’ home at Highmark Stadium, Pegula has come to more American Football games in Miami than anywhere else, watching from the Owner’s Suites with her family as the Bills and Dolphins battled it out on the field for AFC East supremacy.
“It’s a really cool story, and it’s fun when I get to come here and watch the team play a football game and then I get to come back and play a tennis match,” the American No 1 said. “The owners of the Dolphins, even though they’re also competing against each other, they also think it’s really cool that I get to come back here and play a tennis event, and everyone’s pretty friendly with each other as well in the NFL sides of ownership.”
Pegula’s doubles partner, Gauff, the 6th seed, was relieved to get past Marino in straight sets to face 27th-seeded Anastasia Potapova from Russia next.
“It was a shaky performance, honestly,” admitted Gauff, who converted 5 of her 9 break points and and twice came back from a break down in the second set. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a straightforward match, even if I was up a break sometimes.”
Gauff, who came back from a break down twice in the second set to claim her second career win over the Canadian, admitted she was a bit nervous playing in her hometown as a native of nearby Delray Beach, a small city about 40 miles north of Hard Rock Stadium.
“Today it was an up-and-down match, honestly,” Gauff continued. “I did well in the returning part, considering [Marino is] a big server. I’m really happy with how I played.
“She’s not an easy opponent. She makes a lot of big shots, doesn’t really give you a lot of rhythm. You kind of just have to hang in there.”
Gauff, who turned 19 last week, now holds the record for most match-wins at WTA 1000 events before turning 20 years of age, with her 34th at this level coming over Marino.
The young American will next face No 27 seed Anastasia Potapova in the 3rd-round, after the Russian dispatched Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, 6-1 6-3.
Kostyuk enjoyed plenty of support on the small outer court from Ukrainian fans gathered behind national flags, but she was never able to put her opponent under pressure, and there was no handshake between the two at the end of the match as they both left the court without acknowledging the other.
Mertens, from Belgium, upset Kasatkina, 4-6 6-2 6-2, the highest seed to fall at No 8, to advance to a contest with Croatian Petra Martic, the 29th seed, who got past China’s Wang Xiyu, 6-3 6-3.
After letting a 3-0 advantage slip in the opening set, Mertens dominated as Kasatkina struggled physically, needing a medical time-out in the second.
The Belgian overturned her poor history against the Russian to score her 10th career Top 10 win, and the first since she defeated Simona Halep in the 3rd-round of Madrid in 2021.
Kasatkina had led their head-to-head series 4-1 coming into the match, with Mertens’ sole victory coming in the 2nd-round of New Haven in 2017, and the Belgian had not won a set in their next 3 encounters, a pattern that continued when she dropped the opening set from a 3-0 double-break up.
Mertens bounced back, though, as Kasatkina began to ail, and although she had lost her first-set lead thanks to 28 unforced errors, the Belgian tightened up her game in the second, during which she conceded only 4 points on serve, while, in the second and third sets combined, she reduced her error count to 17.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan survived a spirited come-back from another Russian, Anna Kalinskaya, before progressing to the 3rd round with a 7-5 4-6 6-3 win.
Rybakina is aiming for the ‘Sunshine Double’ after defeating World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka to win Indian Wells last week, and she came into the match on the back of wins in each of the last 8 games she has started.
Kalinskaya broke early in the first set, but failed to hold when serving for the set at 5-4 up, and her Kazakh opponent broke again to turn the set around.
The Russian received medical attention between sets, and started the second poorly, but, trailing 2-4, she produced a brilliant cross-court winner to break back, and she broke again when Rybakina fired long to wrap up the set with a magnificent shot down the line to force the match into a decider.
“I’m happy that I managed to win,” Rybakina said. “I had chances in the second set to close it out, but I was a little bit low on energy, and she did a couple of good returns, one double-fault from me. So it didn’t go my way in the second, but I’m happy that in the third I found my way and won.”
It was tight until Rybakina broke in the 6th game, Kalinskaya going for one deep effort too many, but the Russian’s resilience was evident again as she responded with a break of her own.
Now tiring, Kalinskaya was unable to hold her serve, and Rybakina broke open the final set for a 4-3 lead and, this time, the powerful Kazakh refused to relinquish her lead.
Behind 40 winners on the night, including 14 aces, Rybakina closed out the victory just before midnight after 2 hours and 15 minutes.
“I only had two days [since winning the title at Indian Wells] and today was quite a long day, we’re finishing now really late,” Rybakina said. “Courts are different, balls are different, so it’s not easy at all. But hopefully these three sets will help me in the next round.”
Her next opponent is Spain’s Paula Badosa, the No 21 seed, who won 7-6(2) 4-6 6-2 against Germany’s Laura Siegemund in a match that lasted 2 hours, 51 minutes.
Badosa hit some balls with a ball kid during the pause in play to stay warm when Siegemund called for a medical timeout and left the court for treatment, which took nearly 15 minutes.
The Spaniard, a quarter-finalist here last year, survived an array of outstanding volleys and drop-shots from the German qualifier to level their head-to-head at two wins apiece.
In other Thursday results, 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka from Belarus beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi, 6-3 6-1, and will face the No 20 seed from Poland, Magda Linette, a 6-3 6-4 winner over Evgeniya Rodina, a Russian.
33-year old Azarenka, who now has the second-most career wins at the Miami Open among active women, with 38, and only trails Venus Williams with 67, won the tournament here in 2009, 2011 and 2016.
No 23 Zheng Qinwen, from China, picked up a 2-6 6-1 6-1 win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, making a a winning return to action after recovering from an abdominal injury.
She shook off first set rust and survived a series of lung-busting third set rallies to advance to round 3 where she will next face No 12 seed Liudmila Samsonova from Russia, who trounced Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic, 6-1 6-1.
“At the beginning I was having to struggle a bit on court,” said Zheng. “At the beginning it was tough to win a point – I was really happy to be on court, but in the beginning it looked like I was not so into the match.
“I didn’t find the match rhythm. But at the start of the second set I felt a bit better, and I did pretty good at the third set. I was going really fast on court, especially hitting the ball really hard.
“In the second set I tried to slow down, keep the rally more instead of hitting really hard, trying to accelerate where I can but staying with the opponent.
“As my first match back, it’s not a bad start, but I hope I can play a bit better.”
No 13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil defeated Italian Tereza Martincova, 7-6(4) 0-6 6-0, flipping the script after suffering a second set bagel, and winning 12 of 18 return points while saving both break points she faced to lock down the win in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Haddad Maia, ranked No 14 in the world, next will play Jelena Ostapenko, the No 24 seed, after the Latvian defeated Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund, 6-3 6-4, in the night match.