Miami | Sabalenka sails into Last 16 as 3 of 6 Czechs prevail

Form settled at the Miami Open Presented by Itaú on Sunday, as 2nd-seeded Aryna Sabalenka sailed into the Round of 16 dropping just 3 games in the process, while 3 of 6 Czechs also advanced, and Bianca Andreescu continued her run with a straight sets win over fellow Grand Slam champion Sophia Kenin.

When I read something on social media, it's about Iga, Aryna, and Elena [and] I'm not really there. What else should I do? How should I prove it again? This week, again, I'm here, and I'm going to prove it again, so that I get into this Top 3. I want to be mentioned as well. I want to be recognised as well because I think I deserve it. I've had a lot of success on the tour, and I just don't get the credit. Barbora Krejcikova

Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion from Belarus, rolled past fellow 24-year-old Marie Bouzkova from the Czech Republic, 6-1 6-2, losing just 10 points on her serve, and never facing a break point.

“There were really great things from me,” said an upbeat Sabalenka. “I felt like everything I was doing was right, and I am super happy with the level.”

The World No 2’s relentless baseline power dominated the match from the get-go, while there was no sign of the leg issue that clouded her previous win over Shelby Rogers in the previous round, as she put in a flawless performance under the lights of the Hard Rock Stadium Court.

“I have a few exercises that I have to do during the match to control this muscle, but my team did everything so that I don’t focus on my leg, and I focus on my game,” Sabalenka said.

The Belarusian broke Bouzkova twice in the opening set to build a 5-1 lead, and served out the opening set to love in just 28 minutes.

After breaking the Czech again in the opening game of the second, Sabalenka continued to manage her service games with ease before breaking a final time for 5-1, and then closed out the 67-minute match 2 games later to extend her tour-leading record to 19-2.

Barbora Krejcikova got past Madison Keys to reach the Round of 16 in Miami

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Sabalenka will face former World No 2 Krejcikova on Monday for a spot in the quarter-finals.

“I think, if you give her some time, she can put the ball wherever she wants to,” Sabalenka said of Krejcikova. “It’s tough. So you have to put a lot of pressure on her.

“You have to be really aggressive on court, and not give her too much time, and make her really work for it. She’s a great player and it’s always tough battles against her.”

It was Krejcikova who handed Sabalenka her first loss of the season at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February, coming back from a set and a break down to win, in a week during which the Czech defeated the reigning Nos 1, 2 and 3 en route to her first WTA 1000 title, but the Belarusian got her revenge last week at Indian Wells.

“I like that now on tour there are some players who are doing consistently good and I really like to see that,” Sabalenka said. “I like these back-to-back matches.”

Sabalenka leads the overall head-to-head 3-1, with 3 of their 4 matches going the distance.

“She’s on top of the game right now,” Krejcikova said. “Her tennis is really interesting and I like to play against her because her shots are one of the fastest ones, and the same with her serve and return. She’s very aggressive.

“It’s a really nice opportunity to play because I feel that my tennis is also improving and I feel like I have a big shot, a big chance against her.”

Barbora Krejcikova handed Aryna Sabalenka her first loss of the season in Dubai but feels she is not recognised

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Krejcikova feels she has much to prove, particularly hearing whispers about the emergence of a new ‘Big Three’ on the Hologic WTA Tour – Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina.

“When I read something on social media, it’s about Iga, Aryna, and Elena [and] I’m not really there,” Krejcikova, who won the French Open in 2021, told WTA Insider after her win over Madison Keys in the 3rd-round of the Miami Open. “What else should I do? How should I prove it again?

“This week, again, I’m here, and I’m going to prove it again, so that I get into this Top 3.

“I want to be mentioned as well. I want to be recognised as well because I think I deserve it. I’ve had a lot of success on the tour, and I just don’t get the credit.”

Since the start of 2020, only Swiatek with 12, and Sabalenka with 7, have won more titles than the Czech’s 6.

“I don’t want to be forgotten somewhere in the shade of these three big players,” Krejcikova added.

On Sunday the Czech, seeded 16 here, battled past America’s Madison Keys, the 19th seed, 7-6(4) 6-3.

Krejcikova failed to convert her 2 set points at 5-4 in the opener, but she was able to take the tiebreak after an hour of play, while a topsy-turvy second set was defined by a 15-minute game at 3-3, in which the Czech saved 7 break points before holding, and she did not lose another game.

Keys finished the match with 26 winners to Krejcikova’s 17, but the American also had 10 more unforced errors than her opponent.

Petra Kvitova was one of the 3 Czechs to advance at the Miami Open with a straight sets win over Donna Vekic on Sunday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Of the 6 Czechs playing their Miami Open 3rd-round matches on Sunday, only Petra Kvitova and Marketa Vondrousova joined Krejcikova in the Last 16.

In a clash between Top 20 players on the Grandstand court, World No 12 Kvitova held off 20th-ranked Donna Vekic from Croatia after an hour and 39 minutes, 6-4 7-6(3), to reach the Miami Round of 16 for the 6th time in her career, and the 5th time in her last 5 appearances at the tournament.

“I think the secret was to stay focused on every point, especially in the second set,” Kvitova said after her win. “She was always coming back after a [service] break, and it wasn’t really easy already in the first set.

“It was very difficult, she played very well, she served very well.”

Kvitova and Vekic each had 19 unforced errors, but the Czech negated that total with 19 winners, while the Croatian made 14 winners.

Each was perfect in converting all of the break points they held, but Kvitova’s one extra break in the first set proved the difference on Sunday.

Kvitova, who is playing the 99th WTA 1000 tournament of her career, will square off against qualifier Varvara Gracheva for the first time in Monday’s Round of 16, after the Russian dispatched Poland’s Lucky Loser Magdalena Frech, 6-1 6-2.

In the only all-Czech battle of the day, Vondrousova needed just 52 minutes to charge past former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova, who made a slight fight-back with her back against the wall, winning 2 games in a row from 0-5 down in the second set, but, otherwise, it was one-way traffic for the left-hander.

The 2019 Roland Garros finalist, who missed 6 months of action last year following wrist surgery, has reached the Round of 16 at both of this year’s Sunshine Double tournaments as her come-back continues.

Czech qualifier Karolina Muchova, however, was outpaced by Sorana Cirstea and lost out, 7-5 6-2.

The Romanian extended a Sunshine Double surge with the win, after Muchova served for the first set at 5-4, and Cirstea broke her to love before steam-rolling to the 91-minute win, reaching the Miami Open Round of 16 for the first time in exactly 10 years.

Cirstea made the quarter-finals last week in Indian Wells, and she has beaten World No 4 Caroline Garcia in both Indian Wells and Miami this month, the upsets marking the first time the 32-year-old has garnered multiple Top 5 wins in a single season.

She will next play Vondrousova for her chance to make back-to-back WTA 1000 quarter-finals.

Bianca Andreescu won the battle of Grand Slam champions by beating Sofia Kenin at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Bianca Andreescu, a runner-up here in Miami, got the better of American Sofia Kenin, 6-4 6-4.

“Last time I played here in 2021, I did not enjoy myself,” Andreescu told the crowd. “I did not feel that I deserved to be in that final. But this year, I feel like a totally different person, and I definitely feel I deserve to be here right now.”

The 22-year-old, who won the US Open in 2019, has been impressive so far this week, having beaten Emma Raducanu and World No 10 Maria Sakkari in the previous rounds.

In a match of few rallies, Andreescu dominated with her serve, producing a 70% first serve percentage and it was not until mid-way through the second set that Kenin caused any real problems.

The 2020 Australian Open champion broke Andreescu to cut the lead to 4-3 but, despite the improved forehand from the Floridian, the Canadian kept her cool and won with her first match point.

“These victories are definitely very sweet, and I’ve had many tough matches against Sofia, so it feels really good to get through,” said Andreescu who converted all 3 of her break points. “I definitely feel like I am getting better match by match, even physically.

“Like, I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling very fresh,” she added.

Andreescu burst onto the scene with her stunning US Open win as a teenager, and rose to No 5 in the world that year, before her career stalled as injury in 2020 sidelined her, and then the COVID pandemic blocked any chance of regaining momentum, after which she decided to take 6 months off.

“It was honestly me wanting to figure out if I really want to continue playing tennis because I was literally about to just drop my rackets and just say, screw this,” she said on Sunday. “I wasn’t happy at all.

“I wasn’t happy, basically, for the full year of 2021, and I thought that if I continue like this, it’s just going to get worse.

“So I was, like, OK, let’s take a break. Hopefully that helps. And it really did. My heart did grow fonder for the sport, and now I appreciate it in a much different way than I did before that break.”

Andreescu will face Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 18th seed, in the next round after the Russian beat World No 9 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 7-6 (8) 6-3.

Alexandrova pulled off the only minor upset of the day, aided by the Swiss giving away 7 double faults, 2 of which led to breaks.



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