Out in the California desert at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, 2nd-seeded Paula Badosa from Spain was pushed to the limit before overcoming the challenge presented by 21-year old American Elizabeth Mandlik, 6-2 5-7 7-6(5), while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the No 3 seed, opened her account with a 7-5 6-1 win over Madison Keys, also from the US.
It feels like home seeing all the Tunisian flags and all the Tunisians. Not just Tunisians, but also I know there are a lot of Arab fans here, and Americans who supported me. Ons Jabeur
Elsewhere in 2nd-round action, another American, Amanda Anisimova, upset 8th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 3-6 7-5 6-1, and 7th-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia eliminated the Unites States’ Taylor Townsend, 6-4 6-0.
Badosa, the World No 4 had her hands full with Mandlik, who is the daughter of 4-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova and received a last-minute wild-card into qualifying here.
Having comfortably pocketed the first set with 2 breaks of serve Badosa went down an early break in the second against her 240th-ranked opponent.
Although the Spaniard broke back, she was broken again in the 11th game to give Mandlik the chance to serve out the set and extend the match into a decider.
Badosa rallied from 3-5 down in the 3rd set, able to break the World No 240 twice as the 21-year-old served for the upset, before the No 2 seed edged the deciding tiebreak.
Mandlik had twice served for the match, while leading 5-4 and 6-5, but Badosa broke her both times, and then won 3 of the final 4 points of the tiebreak to advance to the Last 8.
“I think, sometimes, it’s a little bit confusing when you play against a player with her ranking because, sometimes, you don’t expect that kind of score, and you think you’re not doing things well,” Badosa said. “But to be honest, I think I played pretty good, and she only played unbelievable, and I have to accept it.”
Badosa will next face the winner of Thursday night’s marquee clash between 4-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka and 6th-seeded American Coco Gauff.
Osaka is unseeded as she plays her first tournament since falling in the 1st-round of the French Open, where she was battling a left Achilles tendon injury.
Meanwhile, Jabeur, who made the Wimbledon final last month, powered past Keys, a former US Open finalist, in straight sets.
The Tunisian was playing her first match since her historic runner-up finish at The Championships, and got off to a strong start with an early break to go up 2-0 before Keys surged to a 5-3 lead before Jabeur responded by winning 10 of the next 11 games.
“I’m grateful that I played at night because it’s slower and it helps me a little bit with the conditions,” Jabeur said. “I knew it was going to be a tough match for me.
“I just tried to stay low and hit the ball as much as I can. Make her play another ball and in the end I was feeling much better.”
At least half a dozen Tunisian flags flew around the stadium, welcoming the Tunisian government’s newest official, the Minister of Happiness.
“It feels like home seeing all the Tunisian flags and all the Tunisians,” Jabeur said, reflecting on the support in her tournament debut. “Not just Tunisians, but also I know there are a lot of Arab fans here, and Americans who supported me.”
27-year old Jabeur is flying solo in San Jose, wanting to experience ‘dealing with herself’ on the court.
She had to do that early as she struggled with ball placement and Keys took a 5-4 lead, but Jabeur managed to coach herself back from the brink, using her signature drop-shot to great effect.
“I know she plays the ball fast. But huge respect for her,” Jabeur said. “She’s a great player.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match for me. I just tried to stay low and hit the ball as much as I can. Make her play another ball and, in the end, I was feeling much better.”
Jabeur finished the match with 7 winners to 12 unforced errors, while Keys hit 8 winners to 22 unforced errors, but most notably, Keys was unable to fire her vaunted serve past the World No 5 and made no aces on the night.
On Friday, Jabeur will face the winner of Thursday morning’s match between American Claire Liu and 9th seed Veronika Kurdermetova from Russia in the quarter-finals.
Jabeur has little experience with either of her prospective opponents, having never faced Liu and only playing Kudermetova twice, in 2019 at the Libema Open and the Kremlin Cup, two matches the Tunisian lost in straight sets.
Anisimova defeated Pliskova for the first time in 5 attempts to reach the quarter-finals, trailing by a set and a break on her way to a 3-set win.
The American trailed, 6-3, 3-2, before breaking the tall Czech’s serve to love and proceeding to win 10 of the next 11 games.
Anisimova had only won one set against Pliskova previously and said her 31st win of 2022 was indicative of how much she has improved in the last 12 months.
The American is 1 of 4 players on the Hologic WTA Tour to boast 30 or more wins this year, joining Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and Simona Halep.
“It just means that I’ve progressed a lot, and I’m very happy to get this win today,” Anisimova said. “In the first and second set, I had a lot of nerves.
“I had a lot of anxiety the last couple of days, and I think that showed in the match. I was able to just shake it off, put some ice on my face, and find my game.
“I’m just happy I was able to turn it around, because a year ago, I don’t think I would’ve been able to.”
Anisimova is through to the quarter-finals in San Jose for a second time, having also got this far in 2019, and awaits the winner of the match between top seed Maria Sakkari from Greece and America’s Shelby Rogers.
Elsewhere, 7th-seeded Kasatkina also advanced, beating Townsend with the loss of just 4 games.
The Russian feels that not only has a weight been lifted off her shoulders since coming out as gay, but her decision to go public has inspired many others, and she has been overwhelmed by the positive reaction from fans after coming out in an interview with a vlogger last month.
“I don’t know how the social media filter works, but I’ve just heard very good things,” Kasatkina told WTA Insider at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. “Not just from the west but also people from my country.
“I’m really happy about it. As I saw, it was not just a good thing for me, also it helped other people. That’s great and I feel great. I feel happy about it and about myself and that’s most important.”
Kasatkina said she received the expected messages of support from her close friends after her announcement, but was surprised that so many she did not know well in the player community also reached out.
“I think in tennis, at least with the girls around, we’re all very supportive of each other no matter the background or identity,” Gauff said. “I don’t think there’s any judgment when it comes to that.
“I’m grateful that she felt comfortable enough sharing that part of her life. She didn’t have to do that. But I can only imagine how many people in her situation feel inspired by that.”
Osaka also offered her own words of support and called for even more: “I thought it was really amazing how she’s doing that.
“I do think we have to rally to support her because it is a bit of a dangerous situation. But I think in all of that it’s really incredible that she’s coming out and she’s standing for what she believes in.
“I’m always in support of that.”
Kasatkina says she has felt no change in how she’s been treated, and her girlfriend, Olympic figure skater Natalia Zabilako, has been sitting in her player box this week in San Jose.
“Yeah, I feel more free and happy,” she said. “I think I made the right step. With the situation in the world, all this stuff that is tough, when if not now? Let’s put everything into the same pool.”
A finalist in San Jose last year, Kasatkina is back in the quarter-finals after ousting Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Townsend in her first two matches.
Currently ranked No 12, Kasatkina made back-to-back semi-finals in Rome and Roland Garros.
“This is the point when I have to realise that I am an adult and mature enough,” Kasatkina said. “I’m not 18 anymore.
“I cannot rely that I am young, and I will have time. No, I’m 25, I have to act now.
“I have to show everything I’ve got in these years. I think this is already the time to give more than take.”
Kasatkina is looking to finish the season in the Top 8 and to make her WTA Finals debut, currently standing at No 6 on the Porsche WTA Race to the Finals leaderboard.
“It was very intense, the first part of the season, and it’s going to be even more intense the second part,” Kasatkina said. “This is the point that decides who’s the best, who deserves to go to the Final Eight.
“Who will pass this challenge will win this golden ticket to go there.
“Tennis is about mental strength. At the end of the year, at the end of the swings, this is where the strongest one wins.
“This is what tennis is about, so you have to squeeze it out. You have to work hard and ask a lot of yourself without killing yourself.”
Kasatkina awaits the winner between Kayla Day and Caroline Dolehide, who play their all-American derby on Thursday.