Miami | Bencic stops Watson, Jabeur and Osaka advance

Olympic champion Belinda Bencic put paid to any further ambitions on the part of Britain’s Heather Watson at the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Saturday, the Swiss steaming past, 6-4 6-1, to reach the Round of 16.

She's a very tricky player [Heather Watson], I haven't played her in a long time. She plays with very much control, and she tries to bring you out of position, so it was tricky at the start, but I'm happy I found my flow. Belinda Bencic

Bencic, who had to come from 2-4 down in the first set to get past the British No 3, is the last seed standing in the top quarter of the draw, a section that has seen top seed Aryna Sabalenka, 6th-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 11th seed Emma Raducanu and 15th-seeded Elina Svitolina all lose their opening matches.

Watson took out Svitolina in the second of her two 3-set wins this week that kept the Brit on court for 6 hours and 4 minutes on her way to reaching the 3rd round.

The last time Bencic and Watson played, both were competing as wild-cards at Indian Wells in 2014, and Watson won, just 5 days before the Swiss’s 17th birthday, 7-5 6-4.

By now, Bencic has tucked an Olympic gold medal and a career high ranking of No 4 under her arm, and presented a very different challenge.

“She’s a very tricky player, I haven’t played her in a long time,” Bencic said afterwards. “She plays with very much control, and she tries to bring you out of position, so it was tricky at the start, but I’m happy I found my flow.”

Both ground out the opening 6 games without truly finding their range, until Watson eventually got ahead 4-2 courtesy of a Bencic double-fault.

The World No 115 held a point to consolidate for 5-2, but then double-faulted herself, which was all Bencic needed to turn the tables around as she scooped up 10 of the last 11 games.

When Watson double-faulted again, Bencic converted the break point for 4-4, and settled into a smooth groove as she dominated the second set, whipping a series of superb backhand winners to seal the deal in an hour and 26 minutes.

Bencic takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich next, who had a tough time getting past Irina-Camelia Begu, Sabalenka’s first round conqueror from Romania, 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4, after battling for just a minute over the 3-hour mark.

Ons Jabeur made short work of the tricky Kaia Kanepi in Miami

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Only 2 other seeds in the top half of the draw also made it into the last 16, but now will face each other.

Ons Jabeur, the No 8 seed from Tunisia, won the Saturday nightcap match over the tricky Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 6-3 6-0.

36-year old Kanepi is an upset specialist, ranked 61, who has collected 14 Top 10 wins in her lengthy career, but she was denied a 15th by Jabeur, who won the last 10 games of their contest to grab the victory in exactly an hour.

Jabeur clearly has the measure of the Estonian, going up 3-0 in their meetings without the loss of a set.

Her next task is American Danielle Collins, who took out former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva, 6-1 6-4.

The 9th seed struck 4 aces and broke Zvonareva 3 times in the 78 minute encounter on Stadium court.

Collins, the Australian Open finalist, has been nursing various injuries this year, including back and abdominal ailments, while the after-effects of a recent viral illness have left her with significant neck pain.

“There was, obviously, an emotional moment for me, the pain that I’m dealing with right now with this injury,” she said in her on-court interview. “Just trying to work through that, I think is one of the hardest things we go through mentally when we’re on court.

“Because, when we have that physical pain, it distracts you from what you need to do, it holds you back in the big moments.”

Collins, who made the Miami semi-finals as a qualifier in 2018, was aggressive and exhibited superior groundstrokes, which kept Zvonareva under pressure, and she won the first set before they needed a fresh set of balls.

After Zvonareva broke Collins in the 6th game of the second on a double-fault, she converted her fifth game point to take a 4-3 lead, but Collins held, then broke back with a sharp backhand return of a second serve and served out the match.

The 28-year-old American is now 3-0 in her head-to-head record against Zvonareva, who is a two-time semi-finalist here in Miami.

Collins defeated Jabeur at 2020 Roland Garros, but the Tunisian got her revenge at Indian Wells last season so they go into their next contest even.

Naomi Osaka advanced without striking a ball when Karolina Muchova withdrew ahead of their match on Saturday

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Former World 1 Naomi Osaka is unseeded these days, her ranking having plummeted to 77 after her absences last year and disappointing results this season, but after she was expected to be the biggest name in action on Saturday, she found herself in the Round of 16 without striking a ball when her opponent, Karolina Muchova, had to withdraw from the tournament.

The Czech missed 6 months with an ab injury before returning this week but, after a tough win over Leylah Fernandez, the 18th seed from Canada, Muchova sided with caution.

“I’m sad that I cannot put up a battle against Naomi today,” Muchova posted on Twitter. “After a long break from tennis, 2 tough matches in row have been a lot for my body, and I need longer to recover.

“Was nice to be part of @MiamiOpen again! I will be back on clay!”

In 2021, Osaka reached the quarter-finals in her best-ever showing here when the event was played last autumn due to the pandemic.

The Japanese now will face Alison Riske, who won an all-American affair against Ann Li, 6-2 3-6 6-3, the World No 50 taking 2 hours and 9 minutes to outlast her 65th-ranked compatriot.

Alison Riske won an all-American battle with Ann Li and takes on Naomi Osaka next

© Mark Brown/Getty Images

There was another walkover on Saturday when Anna Kalinskaya joined the walking wounded with a left arm injury, allowing Lucky loser Lucia Bronzetti of Italy guaranteed passage into the Round of 16 where she will next face wild-card Daria Saville from Australia.

In a curious twist, Saville also advanced by retirement, when Czech Katerina Siniakova, Raducanu’s conqueror, withdrew due to illness from their match after losing the first 7 games.

Siniakova appeared to struggle with an abdomen injury but Saville was merciless, attacking with venom and dropping just 9 points in a 23-minute opening set.

It means Saville has now made the 4th round in two successive WTA 1000 events, at Indian Wells and Miami, as her career revival continues.

Less than 6 weeks ago, Saville was ranked 627 in the world as she trod nervously on the come-back trail after 10 months out of the game following surgery to cure a chronic Achilles problem.

If the former Top 20-ranked Australian can get past Bronzetti, Saville will rise to at least No 127 when the next rankings come out on 4 April, while the Italian, ranked 102, is making a bit of breakthrough of her own at the age of 23.

Iga Swiatek, the soon-to-be World No 1, is favourite for the title and back in action on Sunday

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The women’s draw lost 18 seeds before the second round, and the about-to-be World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Osaka now look strong contenders for the WTA 1000 Miami crown.

Swiatek, who won the French Open in 2020, has not lost in a WTA 1000 level event this season, having claimed the Qatar Open and Indian Wells Masters titles, while Osaka is a 4-time Grand Slam champion who looks to be finding her mojo again.

On Sunday, the schedule features teenagers on Grandstand as 18-year-old Coco Gauff is back to battle China’s Zhang Shuai, preceded by 16-year-old Czech prodigy Linda Fruhvirtova against 2-time Miami winner Victoria Azarenka.

“I have always answered that I want to reach No 1. I want to win Grand Slam titles, which hasn’t changed,” said Fruhvirtova who has a younger sister, Brenda, also on the tour. “We always said that, with my sister, it’s my goal and, yeah, we just want to achieve that.”

Title favourite Swiatek returns to face the awkward Madison Brengle, while Petra Kvitova is also scheduled to face another American Lauren Davis, who qualified.

“Playing against Madison is always tricky because she plays in such a different rhythm than most of the players,” said Swiatek. “I will have to be careful, you know, but on the other hand, I still want to be focused on my tennis that I’m able to show and being aggressive and being proactive.”

Follow the live action on Amazon Prime Video.



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