As the first round of the Volvo Car Open was completed on Tuesday, Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza led the charge into round 2 at Charleston with straight wins.
Conchita loves this tournament, and loves the city. She’d talk a lot about Downtown Charleston and all the places I’d have to go. I told her, ‘Conchi, stop telling me this, because we can’t go anywhere!’. Garbiñe Muguruza
Muguruza, the No 6 seed, last played in South Carolina for the first time since 2013, although she intended to enter the tournament in 2020 before it was canceled due to the pandemic at the behest of coach and two-time former champion Conchita Martinez.
“It didn’t go to well the last time I was here,” Muguruza said after the match, “so I was always thinking, ‘Man, this grey or green clay, I have to come back and have a different feeling’.
“Conchita loves this tournament, and loves the city. She’d talk a lot about Downtown Charleston and all the places I’d have to go.”
Restricted to a COVID-19 bubble, Muguruza joked with Martinez that some of the 1994 Wimbledon champion’s grander plans will have to wait until next year.
“I told her, ‘Conchi, stop telling me this, because we can’t go anywhere!’ ”
The Spaniard’s coach is a two-time former champion at the South Carolina, and is set to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall Of Fame in July, after the 2020 ceremony was cancelled.
When asked if she would make the trip to Newport, Rhode Island, Muguruza replied: “She has to ask me! Garbi come with me. And then I’ll definitely come.”
The former World No 1 blitzed Magdalena Fręch, a qualifier, in the opening set and while things got closer in the second, she ultimately adjusted to the green clay to subdue the Pole, 6-1 6-3, in 70 minutes.
After a first-round bye, Muguruza staved off both of the break points she faced and slammed away 24 winners, 4 times more than from Frech’s racket.
“I’m happy that I got this win, that I fought hard, that I kept my fighting spirit through the whole match, also in the second set which was tighter than the first set,” Muguruza told the press, after the match. “I’m pleased with that, very simple.”
With great depth and powerful precision, Muguruza took control of the first set, regularly following her big shots into the net for put-aways, obtaining an early break for 3-1 after a blistering backhand set her up for a winning volley, and claimed a second break with a backhand crosscourt winner, opening up a 5-1 lead.
Serving for the set, Muguruza faced break points for the first time all day, but the Spaniard powered her way out of trouble and held for the one-set lead.
Frech picked up her groundstrokes to keep the early stages of the second set competitive, but Muguruza took control, punching an overhead winner on her 5th break point of a protracted game to break for a 4-3 lead., and knocked off the final 4 games for the win.
“This clay is similar to European from the outside, but as pro tennis players, we feel everything, so it feels like it’s not as easy to slide on this clay,” Muguruza observed. “It’s a bit more compact, and the bounces are tricky.
“I grew up playing on red clay as a kid in Spain. I feel like I spent so many hours running on those courts.
“Hard courts, it feels like everyone plays well. Points are short and fast. Clay courts allow you to develop more, do more things, and have more time.
“It can go against your or with you, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s how I grew up playing. It helped me learn how to play points and incorporate different strategies to my game.
“Of course, winning my first Grand Slam on clay courts makes a huge difference: I had my first big success on the surface I grew up loving. Overall, it feels so familiar to me.”
Muguruza will next play No 11 seed Yulia Putintseva, who breezed past fellow Kazakh Zarina Diyas, 6-2 6-2, earlier in the afternoon.
Kvitova, seeded No 3, edged through a tiebreak first set against Aussie qualifier Storm Sanders to ultimately win, 7-6(4) 6-2, in 86 minutes on the Althea Gibson Court.
The Czech played this event in 2018, when she lost in her opening round to fellow Czech Kristyna Pliskova, but was more solid on this occasion, striking a solid 21 winners to just 17 unforced errors.
She had a chance to take control of the first set after a return winner gave her a break point at 3-3, but Sanders withstood the charge by the powerful Czech and stayed on serve.
Strong serving by both from that point forward caused the pair to move inexorably into a decisive tiebreak after 47 minutes of play.
An early Sanders mini-break was erased as the duo moved to 4-4 in the breaker and, after a missed forehand and a wide return that clipped the net-cord, Sanders had ceded a 6-4 lead and 2 set points to Kvitova, who took full advantage, cracking a forehand winner crosscourt to close out the set.
The second set was broken open early as Kvitova at last claimed a service break with deep returning, garnering a 4-2 lead in the process, and she rolled on from there, as she clinched the last 4 games of the encounter to move into the round of 16.
Kvitova will next face either Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez, or Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic.
American Coco Gauff was impressive in the first tour-level match of her career on the green clay on Tuesday night, cruising past Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-0, in the first round of the WTA 500 event.
It was also the 50th tour-level match of Gauff’s career, and she improved to 31-19 win-loss record with the win.
“This is one of the few tournaments that’s on green clay, and I grew up in Florida where we have a lot of green clay, so I’m pretty familiar with this surface,” Gauff said in her on-court interview.
“I’m just happy I was able to pull through tonight.”
Pironkova, who is a mother on tour currently working her way back up the rankings, was a tough first-round draw as the Bulgarian has been to the quarter-finals or better of Grand Slams 4 times before, including on the red clay of Roland Garros in 2016 and, most recently, at the US Open last summer.
After Gauff jumped out to a 4-0 lead, even getting to double break point for a 5-0 lead, Pironkova began using all of that experience to claw back a hold serve for 4-1, broke and held again to close the gap to 4-3, and even got to double break point herself with the American serving at 4-3, 15-40.
Gauff righted the ship just in the nick of time, and took control again, winning the last 8 games of the match to run away with it, closing it out after an hour and 12 minutes.
When asked what she was most happy with in the match, she pointed to that hold for 5-3.
“Definitely when I got to 4-3 in the first set, how I was down a couple of break points, and I served pretty well,” Gauff said. “I served the first ball into the court, so that’s what I was pretty happy about.
“[The key] was just to make the game simple.
“My past matches, I had leads, and kind of let them go, so I went from that moment and learned from it and brought it into today’s match.”
Awaiting the No 14-seed in the second round 110th-ranked Russian Liudmila Samsonova, a 6-2 6-1 first-round winner against Japan’s Nao Hibino earlier in the day.
Gauff says she is spending less time on social media now and is focusing more on her tennis.
“I think I was just trying not to be on social media as much because a lot of people have opinions on you and how they think you should play,” Gauff said.
“But I think it’s important that you focus on your journey, your path, and you’re going to have a different path than other players. That’s what I’ve been working on lately, is just focusing on my journey and my path.”
The African-American teenager has also emerged as a leading voice in the fight against racial injustice in America.
Gauff, currently ranked 36 in the world, a spot below the career-best ranking she reached last month, said she is ready to be patient in her bid for success.
“I think you want results to happen fast, but I’m also still developing my game and figuring out how I want to play on the court and how I want to construct my points,” she added.
“So it’s just definitely a learning process and I feel like with every tournament, even though some tournaments I don’t do as well as others, I feel like with each one I’m getting better and getting closer to figuring out my game and figuring out what I like to do.”
Another American teenager also won a night-time first-rounder on Tuesday as 19-year-old wildcard Emma Navarro claimed a 6-4 6-3 victory over Mexico’s Renata Zarazua.
A Charleston native, Navarro, who reached the 2019 Roland Garros junior singles final, converted 5 of her 6 break points in the match to upend Zarazua in an hour and a half, clinching the first WTA main-draw match-win of her emergent career.
In other results from Tuesday, 18-year Canadian, Leylah Fernandez, upset 16th seed Shuai Zhang from China, 6-3 6-1.
The World No 72 converted 5 out of her 6 break points and won 60% of her first serve points to seal her win in just 69 minutes.
“It feels good, I’m happy to be here playing for the first time this tournament, I’ve heard so many great things so I am happy I can come in with a lot of confidence,” the 2019 French Open girls champion commented on her latest Tour win.
Teenager won her maiden WTA title earlier this year in Monterrey but then lost in the first round of the Miami Open.
“I played good, I was hitting my targets and my spots when I needed them and she made a few mistakes here and there that helped me but I was just trying to keep the momentum from Monterrey going to here and I’m happy that I got my first round,” she said afterwards.
Fernandez will next face Danka Kovinic of Montenegro who beat the Romanian Gabriela Talaba, 7-6(2) 6-4.
American Shelby Rogers beat the Frenchwomen Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4 6-3, and compatriot Sloane Stephens dismissed qualifier Wang Xinyu from China, 6-2 6-4.