Misfortune struck Bianca Andreescu again, who suffered a left ankle injury and had to be wheel-chaired off court on Monday at the Miami Open Presented by Itaú, while Aryna Sabalenka, Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina marched into the quarter-finals with straight set wins.
Physically I’m not the freshest, but I’m happy that I’m managing and finding my way. To be in a quarter-final is great and, hopefully, I’m going to play better. It was a really tough match today. Again, I didn’t start the greatest, but happy that it was in two sets. Elena Rybakina
It was a brutal end to Andreescu’s run following her recent good form, which was cut short when she collapsed to the court yelling in pain and clutching her lower leg after attempting a return against Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 18th seed from Russia.
As personnel rushed to her aid, the 22-year old Canadian was heard to say: “I’ve never felt this kind of pain before.”
The 2019 US Open champion had dropped the first set 7-6(0) but was mounting a come-back, winning the first 2 games of the second when the injury occurred and, after receiving medical attention, Andreescu was lifted into a wheelchair and taken off court in tears after sharing an emotional hug with her opponent.
Andreescu missed all of 2020 due to injury, and returned to the WTA Tour last April after a 6-month mental health break.
“I’m just really sorry that it happened to [Andreescu],” Alexandrova said afterwards. “Seeing her on the court in so much pain, it’s just painful to watch.
“You cannot help, you just can do nothing, which is terrible. And I think she’s going to be fine soon, and I’m wishing for her speedy recovery.
“The first set was super tough, and great, and it probably could be a pretty good match for both of us, but unfortunately [Andreescu’s injury] happened.”
The first set was interrupted by a 2-hour rain delay at 3-2, but, after play resumed, Alexandrova took control with powerful groundies to lead 5-3, and although Andreescu broke back for 5-5, the Russian regrouped to take the breaker without the loss of a point.
“I’m really pleased with the fact that I was able to refocus [in the first set], because the start was really slow, I couldn’t find the rhythm,” Alexandrova said. “After the rain, I just tried to do my best that I could, and just improve mistakes that I made in the start.”
Alexandrova will face Czech Petra Kvitova, the 15th seed, in the quarter-finals, who, earlier on Monday, defeated qualifier Varvara Gracheva, 7-5 7-6(5), a Russian who has applied for French citizenship after having lived in Cannes since 2016.
The 22-year old World No 54 revealed that she had intended to apply for citizenship long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ban on Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon.
If her application is approved, Gracheva will switch from being the 7th-highest ranked Russian woman to becoming the French No 2.
Born in Moscow, she has yet to win a WTA title, but has defeated 3 Top 10 opponents this season – Russian No 1 Daria Kasatkina twice and Ons Jabeur from Tunisia – and reached her first WTA final in Austin where she lost to Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk.
Gracheva’s run in Miami came to an end at the hands of Kvitova, who booked her Last 8 slot in just over 2 hours after staring down 5 break points in the opening set, but the former World No 2 swatted all of them away while converting 1 of her 2 break points to steal the one-set lead.
The Russian built a 5-2 advantage in the second, although Kvitova pulled all the way back to line up a tiebreak, and then saw her 5-1 lead disappear, but, from 5-5, the Czech left-hander fired an ace and a forehand winner onto the sideline to close out the hard-fought win.
Kvitova is a win away from making the Miami Open semi-finals for the first time in her 13 main-draw appearances at the event.
No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka was in ominous form as she blasted her way past another Czech, Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open winner, 6-3 6-2.
Krejcikova had ended the Belarusian’s 13-match win streak in February in Dubai, but Sabalenka defeated the Czech 2 weeks ago at Indian Wells, and, this time, it took the World No 2 just 65 minutes to see her off, going unbroken in the match, and facing just a single break point.
The Belarusian only lost 10 points on her serve and will start as strong favourite on Wednesday against Romanian Sorana Cristea, who is going through a late career revival for which she credits her Swedish coach Thomas Johansson.
“When you play good, everything becomes a bit more automatic,” said Cirstea, who has beaten World No 5 Caroline Garcia twice in recent weeks. “You don’t think so much. Tennis is a bit more simple.
“When you’re struggling with confidence, you’re overthinking every shot, and you are playing in your mind at each point, and you tend to complicate things.”
Following up her quarter-final at Indian Wells, Cirstea secured another Last 8 appearance thanks to a 7-6(3) 6-4 win over Czech Marketa Vondrousova.
At the age of 32, the Romanian knows she will need to produce one of the performances of her life if she is to get past Sabalenka.
“I know it’s going to be very tough but I’ve been winning a lot of matches this American swing and I have the confidence,” she said. “I know what I can play.”
After injury cut her season short after the US Open last year, Cirstea turned to 2002 Australian Open champion and former World No 7 Johansson in search of some ideas.
“He made me a bit more aware of everything,” she said. “He taught me a bit of tennis IQ.
“I think he was one of the best players to read the game when he was playing, and he had the best tennis IQ out there. So he’s been sharing that with me a little bit.
“He was a player that was reading his opponent very, very well. So he’s teaching me that also. I felt that was missing completely,” she added. “I was always a player that only focused about my game, and I’m still doing that because I have an aggressive game, but he’s made me smarter.”
Meanwhile, in the top half of the draw, World No 3 Jessica Pegula, got off to a flying start, striking 7 winners in the opening 9 minutes and winning the first 3 games, before, with only 19 minutes on the clock, she was 5-0 up against her good friend Magda Linette from Poland, the No 20 seed.
The second set was a different story, though, with Linette grabbing a 5-2 lead, but she let 2 set points slip on her own serve, and Pegula went on to win the final 5 games to secure victory, 6-1 7-5, after an hour and 19 minutes on court.
Pegula has lamented her slow starts at Indian Wells, but said her rapid-fire opening to matches in Miami had not been part of any strategy.
“It wasn’t something I was really thinking about,” she said. “I think it just has been happening that way, which is nice.
“It was kind of a weird match. I had strings of games where I was playing really well, then [went] a little bit off. For the most part I was able string together good games, so that’s always a good sign,” she added.
The American will face Anastasia Potapova after the Russian beat China’s Zheng Qinwen, 6-4 7-6(4), to continue her impressive run.
“Today was such a different match because I was on the defence,” she explained after the match. “She hits stronger than me, and I saw her struggling when I was getting back all the balls to her.”
Earlier this week, Potapova broke her silence on her decision to wear a Spartak onto court at Indian Wells, which incurred a warning from the WTA.
“There was no political intent with this shirt,” the two-time title winner and World No 26 said after winning her opening match at the Miami Open. “I’ve only been a Spartak superfan since I was ten years old. My father built part of the team’s stadium, so it’s part of our family. I get along very well with the team.”
She also revealed that she had been caught off guard after receiving the warning from the tour, adding: “I was very surprised by everything happened, because I didn’t have any bad intentions doing this.”
Potapova also discussed Wimbledon, with the All England Club yet to announce a decision on whether Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete.
The club barred players from the two nations last year, and according to recent reports, which have not been confirmed by the AELTC, claim they will allow them back in 2023.
“I dream about it because it’s one of my favourite parts of the season,” Potapova said of playing at SW19. “I can only pray and hope it happens. If we can compete there, I’ll be very happy.”
Elsewhere, Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 11 matches as she booked her place in the Miami Open quarter-finals with a 6-4 6-3 win over Belgium’s Elise Mertens on Monday.
“Physically I’m not the freshest, but I’m happy that I’m managing and finding my way,” said the No 10 seed from Kazakstan, who is looking to complete the ‘Sunshine Double’ after her triumph at Indian Wells. “To be in a quarter-final is great and, hopefully, I’m going to play better.”
She has compiled a 2023 win-loss record of 19-4, including a trip to the Australian Open final, and is currently at her career-high ranking of World No 7 following her run to the title in Indian Wells, plus she also has the second-most match-wins on the Hologic WTA Tour this year with 19.
Mertens grabbed the first service break on Monday, converting her 4th break point of the 3-3 game, but two double-faults in the next gave Rybakina a chance to break right back, which she took with a put-away in the forecourt.
Rybakina played another solid return game at 5-4, where she held 3 set points, and, on her 3rd chance, she used her power to force an error long and capture the first set from a break down.
After winning another lengthy game in the second, breaking for 2-0 on her 4th break point of that game for the final break of the day, Rybakina erased the 4 she faced at 3-1 before riding out the win and improving her head-to-head record against Mertens to 3-1.
“It was a really tough match today,” Rybakina said. “Again, I didn’t start the greatest, but happy that it was in two sets.”
The Kazakh slammed down 10 aces in the match and struck 25 winners to her 22 unforced errors and while Mertens had the same number of unforced errors, she only mustered 19 winners.
Off-court, the reigning Wimbledon champion is giving back to the future of tennis of Kazakhstan by donating $5,500 to 14 junior girls, a total of $77,000, who hope to emulate Rybakina on the world stage.
Born in Moscow, Rybakina switched her allegiance to Kazakstan in 2016 where the federation offered support to enable her to play tennis, and this latest gesture removes much of the criticism that has been levelled at her since wining Wimbledon last year.
In the quarters, Rybakina will meet No 25 seed Martina Trevisan of Italy, who defeated 24th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, 6-3 6-3, in an hour and a half.
Despite only 1 seeding place separating them, this was an upset of a former Grand Slam champion.
“It means a lot because I never won a match here,” Trevisan said. “Match after match I’m collecting experience that’s helping me a lot, especially in this type of match when you play against an important player like Ostapenko. She has a lot of experience, more than me.”
Trevisan has struggled to find her best form since her dream run to the semi-finals in Paris last spring and this performance has seen her win 3 matches in succession for the first time since her Roland Garros heroics.
Despite trailing 2-0 in the second set, Trevisan found a strong response by breaking Ostapenko 3 times en route to winning the set, and she then won 5 straight games, including a decisive 5-deuce 7th game in which she fended off 4 break points that would have brought the Latvian back to serve and back into the match.