Garbiñe Muguruza had to dig deep to fend off the challenge of wild card Anna Kalinskaya but found her way past when a procession of seeds – Sofia Kenin, Karolina Pliskova and Elena Rybakina – all fell by the wayside at the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Sunday in the stifling hot and breezy conditions of Florida.
At the end I had many match points and I didn't convert them, but they are still match points. So I have to stay calm and say, 'Hey, I might not have won but I'm still 5-4 serving, right? So why should I be sad? I will try to get the next opportunity.’ These are the key moments, and with experience you learn a little bit more how to handle them. Garbiñe Muguruza
Kenin, the No 4 seed from the US, was up-ended in 3 sets by Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, while Pliskova, the 6th-seeded Czech, could not get past her nemesis for the 3rd time this year, American Jessica Pegula, and Kazakh Rybakina, the No 21 seed, met her match in the in-form Sara Sorribes Tormo from Spain.
Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, Elise Mertens from Belgium, and Greece’s Maria Sakkari maintained their seeded forms at 8, 16 and 23 respectively, and World No 2 Naomi Osaka also advanced via a walkover.
Muguruza, however, managed to win her 8th straight match in dramatic style, roaring back from a set down to defeat Russia’s persistent Kalinskaya, 4-6 6-3 6-4.
“These are very tricky rounds where in a big tournament with a big draw that you face players that some of them are unknown,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference.
“Doesn’t mean they don’t have a great level, and today was proof of that.
“I felt I didn’t brought my best tennis on court, but I brought my fighting spirit and I could match the level of fighting against Anna, and very happy to go through these tough matches.
“Doesn’t matter if you play pretty or ugly, but you stay strong and you go through these rounds. That gives me an opportunity to feel better and to have another chance.”
Muguruza is playing far better than her No 12 seeding might suggest, but it still took her 2 hours 41 minutes to close out the match on the Butch Buchholz court.
22-year-old Kalinskaya made the most of her opportunities this week, knocking out No 20 seed Petra Martic from Croatia in a 3rd-set tiebreak to book her clash with Muguruza for only her 6th career match against a Top 20 player.
Coached by former WTA pro Patricia Tarabini, Kalinskaya scored the only break of the first set and shook off a second set dip to lead 3-0 in the decider, seemingly giving herself the momentum necessary for the biggest win of her career.
Muguruza has the most match wins on tour this year, and her 3 final appearances are also the most on the WTA this season, finishing as runner-up at the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne and in Doha before winning the title in Dubai.
The Spaniard was made to fight hard against the 115th ranked Kalinskaya, who pulled her into numerous rallies and found some stunning winners to match the former World No 1 for the full duration of the clash.
“It was a very physical match, was a long match and a lot of ups and downs,” Muguruza said. “It was tough conditions with wind, so it was a lot about staying strong, staying strong in important moments.”
A 7-minute opening game set the tone, as Muguruza needed to save 3 break points just to hold for 1-0.
Sturdy hitting from the Russian drew errors from the Spaniard, and gave her the only break of the opening set at 3-3, and she eventually closed it out with a backhand winner.
Muguruza’s 3-1 lead in the second was erased by errors as Kalinskaya clawed back on serve at 4-3, only for the 2-time Grand Slam champion to break again for 5-3 after coming out on top in lengthy rallies with backhand winners.
The Spaniard punched a backhand volley to hold to love and level the match at a set apiece.
After a 10 minute heat break, Kalinskaya took command of the decider, controlling the points with her strong forehand and using great depth of shot to ease to an early 3-0 advantage.
The experienced Muguruza struck back with a deft combination of power and placement, and eventually got level at 3-3.
Rallies and games were pushed to the limit and it was Muguruza who broke through first, using a deep backhand return to force an error and claim the break for 5-4.
Serving for the match, Muguruza had to save a break point in another extended game, but, on her 4th match point, the Spaniard fired a forehand winner to wrap up the match.
“At the end I had many match points and I didn’t convert them, but they are still match points,” Muguruza said. “So I have to stay calm and say, ‘Hey, I might not have won but I’m still 5-4 serving, right? So why should I be sad? I will try to get the next opportunity.’
“These are the key moments, and with experience you learn a little bit more how to handle them.”
Standing between her and a first-ever Miami Open quarter-final is 2019 US Open champion Andreescu, who edged out Amanda Anisimova, the American 28th seed in another thriller.
In their first meeting since the juniors, Andreescu battled to survive against Anisimova, 7-6(4) 6-7(2) 6-4, and will have 24 hours to recover before facing Muguruza in the 4th round on Monday night.
“I’m super happy. It’s really nice being back here,” Andreescu said in her on-court interview. “Amanda played really well tonight.
“I’m super happy with how I fought through, because it wasn’t easy. I was lucky enough to play an evening match, which wasn’t as hot or as humid, so that was a bonus.”
There was very little between the two throughout the 2 hour, 44 minute encounter, with no breaks in the first set despite Andreescu carving out 10 opportunities but having to come back from a mini-break down the tiebreak to win it.
The Canadian finally converted her 12th break point on an Anisimova double fault to go up a set and 2-0, but the American broke right back and blew through another breaker to send it to a third.
Andreescu broke one last time in the 5th game of the decider and never let go again, as the two held serve from there until it was over, and the Canadina held to love to close it out, ripping a backhand winner down the line, her 20th winner of the nigh.
Andreescu won just 5 more points in the match, 113 to 108, while the Canadian converted 3 of 17 break points to the American’s 2 for 2.
World No 4 Kenin was the highest seed to fall in the 3rd round, losing a hard battle to Jabeur, who prevailed 6-4 4-6 6-4 as the American’s tough start to 2021 continues.
Stunned in the 2nd round of the Australian Open, in her title defence, Kenin then crashed out of the Phillip Island Trophy at the first hurdle and endured an emergency appendectomy in February.
Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final at the 2020 Australian Open, took the first set, but Kenin recovered to force a decider in which the Tunisian broke in the 9th game before serving out the match.
Andreescu’s next opponent is Sorribes Tormo, who upset Rybakina, 6-1 3-6 6-2.
The 24-year-old Spaniard leads the tour in matches that have lasted longer than 2 hours this season, with 9 of her 15 encounters reaching that benchmark.
Her two matches in Miami so far have also been marathons and she is growing in reputation as an iron-willed competitor.
Sorribes Tormo’s big win came in Guadalajara, where she defeated Eugenie Bouchard to capture her first title.
Currently ranked at No 58 and on the verge of a new career-high, Sorribes Tormo extended her run with a convincing win over the 21st-seeded Kazakh in 2 hours 24 minutes.
With an 18-4 record under her belt, Sorribes Tormo’s defences defused Rybakina’s power completely in the first set, and the Kazakh had few answers.
Racing forwards to conjure up a series of brilliant passing shots, Sorribes Tormo advanced to a 6-1, 2-0 lead as Rybakina buckled down and adjusted her strategy to turn the match around for a set.
Rallying with greater patience before unleashing her full power, the 21-year-old finally captured the Sorribes Tormo serve with a passing shot of her own, and the break back paved the way to an impressive second-set fightback.
Errors returned with a vengeance in the decider for Rybakina, who was unable to catch up after her poor start, winning just 5 of the 17 of the break points she carved out, and frequently failing to put away sitters.
Sorribes Tormo converted 8 of her 15 chances to make her debut in the last 16 of Miami.
“I still don’t believe it,” Sorribes Tormo said afterwards. “When you play against this kind of player and they are hitting bombs, I try to stay all the time inside the court.
“Don’t lose the court, go against her, try to play as long as you can – it worked.
“The most important thing is that I’m doing exactly the same. I’m doing nothing different for the past year. Now it’s coming together. I’m playing the whole match the same level.”