British No 1 Katie Boulter came through qualifying at the Omnium Banque Nationale présenté par Rogers, the WTA 1000 hard court tournament in Montreal, Canada, and won her opening main draw match against home hope Rebecca Marino, 6-3 6-1, on Monday, while Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova and Jennifer Brady were among other first round winners.
You have to find that balance between playing risky, aggressive, but not too risky, not too much, because then [Swiatek is] not going to give you many points. Of course, that's going to be the most difficult part, to find what is too much, and what is not enough. Karolina Pliskova
Boulter sailed through her opener in 76 minutes to set up a 2nd-round meeting with Coco Gauff, who comes off a title run in Washington last week.
The 27-year-old World No 72 ended the hopes of the Canadian wild-card, and has yet to drop a set in Montreal, after easing through her two qualification rounds.
The Brit never looked back after breaking the World No 103 Marino’s serve to love in the 5th game of the opening set, and sealing it with another break on her first set point.
Boulter asserted her dominance in the second, breaking Marino’s serve and building a 3-0 lead, and although she faced 4 break points on her own serve, she saved them all, including 2 in a key game at 3-1 up, before completing a relatively comfortable win over the 32-year old Canadian.
Boulter’s next opponent, 6th-seeded Gauff has a 1st-round bye, but her fellow American Venus Williams lost 6-2 7-5 to compatriot Madison Keys, the 13th seed.
Keys had it mostly her own way from the start of the match as Williams was unable to match up to her level right until the 10th game of the second set when Keys was unable to close it out.
Williams, who is now 43, saved 7 match points to break serve at 5-4 down in the second set to level, but a break back in the 11th game gave Keys a second chance to serve out the match.
This time, although she squandered one more match point, Keys did convert on the 9th that came her way to serve out the win.
Williams, a 7-time Grand Slam champion, now drops to 2-4 in 6 career matches against the 28-year-old Keys, who broke her twice in the first set, and recorded 2 more breaks in the second.
Enjoying a resurgent in form since the start of the grass season, Keys has made the quarter-finals or better in her last 3 tournaments, including last week at the Mubadala Citi DC Open.
Keys, who also is playing with fellow American Jennifer Brady in the women’s doubles, now faces Jasmine Paolini in the round of 32, after the Italian got past against Croatia’s Donna Vekic, posting a 7-6(3) 6-2 win after an hour and 42 minutes of play, earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, Karolina Pliskova will face Poland’s World No 1 Iga Swiatek in round 2 after the Czech took 2 hours and 22 minutes to beat China’s Lin Zhu, 6-3 6-7(8) 6-2.
Pliskova wobbled out of a second set rain delay losing the tiebreak, but recovered to dispose of the Chinese to register just her second match win in her last 6 events going back to April in Stuttgart.
The Czech, who parted ways with coach Sascha Bajin 2 weeks ago, easily took the opening set and had looked to be heading for a straight-forward victory before Zhu fought off 2 match points, and rain halted play with the tiebreak deadlocked at 8-8.
When play restarted, Zhu pounced, winning 2 points to clinch the breaker, but the 31-year-old Czech quickly refocused in the decider, applying pressure and breaking the Chinese 3 times to move onto the 2nd-round and a meeting with Swiatek, the reigning US Open champion.
“I was kind of ready for both situations because it’s 8-8, so it can just be like two quick points, so you have to be ready that you are going to lose them as well,” Pliskova said. “Of course, it’s tough because you kind of are so close to the win, and then you just start from zero going in the third set, but there’s nothing you can do. You have to still be there and fight.”
Now ranked 23 in the world, Pliskova fired 11 aces against her 7 double-faults, while she converted 5 of 16 break point chances.
Zhu, who struck 2 aces but produced 8 double-faults, broke the Czech on 2 of her 3 opportunities.
Nevertheless, it was an impressive win for Pliskova, who was the runner-up in Montreal in 2021.
Swiatek arrives in Canada riding the momentum after winning her hometown tournament, the Warsaw Open, but she also is fending off a challenge from Aryna Sabalenka, who can take over the top spot in the rankings with a win in Montreal, should the 22-year old Pole exit before the quarter-finals.
“You have to find that balance between playing risky, aggressive, but not too risky, not too much, because then [Swiatek is] not going to give you many points,” said Pliskova of Swiatek, her next challenge. “Of course, that’s going to be the most difficult part, to find what is too much, and what is not enough.”
Another heavyweight clash at the Canadian Open lived up to its billing, with Brady ousting Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, 7-6(7) 0-6 7-6(8), after more than two-and-a-half hours of play to make it to the 2nd-round.
After Brady won the first set, Ostapenko stormed back into the match decisively, the Latvian not only bagelling the American in the second set, but also seemed to heading towards pocketing the decider in a similarly one-sided manner.
Brady, though, came back after being 1-4 down in the final set, saving a couple of match points to deny Ostapenko the win.
“I have no idea how I won that match,” Brady confessed after the match. “On the court I don’t feel like I’m moving as good as I want to, I’m not hitting the ball as deep, or heavy as I want to. I’m not playing good tennis; I’m just playing tennis. That’s how I feel on court.”
The 2020 US Open finalist is making her come-back after sustaining a knee injury, ironically against Ostapenko in Cincinnati 2 years ago, that triggered a series of further injuries that kept her off the tour for 713 days.
“I knew it was the last match I played before I was injured,” Brady continued. “I was really looking forward to it. I wish I could have played a better match, but who cares. People only look at the result, so I’m happy that I somehow won this match.”
Down 0-3 in the third set, Brady said she was just trying to get on the board.
“I don’t want to lose 0 and 0,” Brady said. “It’s embarrassing. I just wanted to get off the court. I don’t want to be here at all.
“But then she gave me a little bit of an opening, a few unforced errors. Then, in the tiebreak, same thing as the first set. Just tried to stay in there.
“It helps me going forward in every match that I play. It’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she wasn’t singing yet. She was humming. She was humming in my ear.”
Next up for Brady is the 3rd seed Elena Rybakina, who also enjoyed a 1st-round bye.
Sloane Stephens also made her way into the 2nd-round, the American carving out a 6-2 7-6(2) win over Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine, and she will take on Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka next, who opened play on IGA Stadium on Monday, beating Poland’s Magda Linette 6-3 6-0 for her 187th career win at WTA 1000 level, breaking the record set by Simona Halep since the level began in 2009.
The contest saw two halts in play because of rain, but the determined 16th seeded Belarusian eventually emerged the winner in a marathon match that took nearly 5 hours to complete.
Azarenka’s focus remained unwavering throughout, though, as she surged ahead with a 5-2 lead in the opening set, before sealing it with a break just before the second rain interruption.
Following a 3-hour pause, Azarenka returned to the court with no intention of risking further delays, dominating the second set by winning 24 out of 31 points and breaking Linette 3 times in the process.
12th-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland also began her campaign successfully, with a comfortable enough 6-2 6-3 win over the 24-year-old Italian, Lucia Bronzetti.
Also through to round 2 is past runner-up Sorana Cirstea from Romania, who handled Varvara Gracheva, a Russian-born Frenchwoman, 6-4 7-6(3).
On a busy Tuesday, with both 1st and 2nd-round matches mixed together, No 5 Caroline Garcia will meet Marie Bouzkova, Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova clashes with Mayar Sherif, 2022 finalist Beatriz Haddad Maia faces Magdalena Frech, French runner-up Karolina Muchova will take on Anastasia Potapova and Azarenka clashes with Stephens.
Former winners Bianca Andreescu and Camila Giorgi also meet, Elina Svitolina tests Danielle Collins and former No 1 Caroline Wozniacki makes her return to the sport after over 3 years to face qualifier Kimberly Birrell.
The 33-year old former World No 1 makes her much-anticipated return to the court on Tuesday evening in the Dane’s first competitive match since the 2020 Australian Open.