At the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens fought back from a set and a break down to beat Britain’s Heather Watson, 6-7(5) 7-5 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich booked a second-round date with British No 1 Emma Raducanu after her 6-0 6-4 win over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano from Colombia.
It's really nice. All the players are very friendly. I'm still very new on the tour, so it's pretty cool. But I haven't really spent too much time hanging around. I've just been training and getting about my business, and then leaving. Emma Raducanu
Stephens, who has been struggling with her form since winning in New York and has fallen out of the top 50, had a poor record against Watson, going into the contest, with a 2-5 head-to-head record.
They traded breaks during an even first set and it was Watson who eked out the tiebreak to edge a set up.
Stephens appeared to be in trouble when she dropped the opening game of the second to love after 3 consecutive unforced errors were followed by a lovely cross-court backhand from Watson.
The American, however, broke back after a marathon second game that lasted 18 points, with the Brit now wilting in the California desert heat.
Watson had to dig deep and fight hard to cling on, as Stephens began to find her range, holding serve in tight games, but the momentum had shifted and the American grabbed a decisive break in the 12th game to send the match into a decider.
The 29-year-old was unable to complete the job, as Stephens, now the World No 73, secured a crucial break of serve in the 12th game and then the final game of the second set to level the topsy-turvy match, before steaming through the decider, eventually converting on her 3rd match point to set up a meeting with compatriot Jessica Pegula in the round of 64.
From 5-5 in the second set, Stephens had won 7 games in a row for just her 3rd win over Watson, whose disappointing season continues.
“Playing Heather is always a tough match,” Stephens said. “We grew up playing juniors together, and we’re really good friends.
“Before the tournament, we were talking in the parking lot for an hour about everything, and how we’ve been friends for so long and how we’re able to separate the match and still be friends.
“Then we ended up playing each other in the first round, so that was unfortunate.
“She’s always a super-tough opponent and I always look forward to playing her,” she added. “I just competed really well.
“After the first set, that was disappointing to lose that one, but I felt like it was a battle and I was still in the match.
“I knew I had to keep fighting and that’s what I did, and I’m just really pleased to have squeaked out a win here.”
Sasnovich, a 27-year-old from Belarus ranked No 100 in the world, saved 9 of the 10 break points she faced to emerge from her first-round contest for a meeting with Raducanu, the 18-year-old whose run to the US Open title last month electrified the tennis world.
The Belarusian dropped just 4 games to Colombia’s teen phenom Osorio Serrano in the first round.
Raducanu, who became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title, arrived at Indian Wells without a coach, and is being helped here by former pro Jeremy Bates.
The World No 22 has received a warm welcome from players at Indian Wells following her US Open victory.
“It’s really nice,” Raducanu said. “All the players are very friendly. I’m still very new on the tour, so it’s pretty cool.
“But I haven’t really spent too much time hanging around. I’ve just been training and getting about my business, and then leaving.”
Elsewhere, France’s Alizé Cornet defeated Romanian qualifier Gabriela Ruse 6-3 7-6(5) to set up a second-round match, with Leylah Fernandez, the 19-year-old Canadian, who made her own scintillating run to the US Open final last month only to finish runner-up to Raducanu.
Former World No 7 Madison Keys withstood a late surge from Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi to earn a 6-0 7-5 win in her first round opener.
Keys reeled off 9 straight games at the get-go, with the first set lasting just 15 minutes, and running a streak of 21 straight points in the process before Kanepi went on a streak of her own.
With Keys serving at 6-0, 3-1, 40-40, the Estonian proceeded to reel off 15 consecutive points and eventually served for the second set at 5-4, but the American found her range again just in time to snuff out Kanepi’s chance to force the decider, breaking to level at 5-5 and breaking for a 6th and final time to seal the win after 69 minutes.
“Every time you play Kaia you know, at any moment, she can start making all her shots,” Keys said later. “She’s such a great player.
“So I had to come up with some pretty good shots to get that back. Happy with how I was able to manage that second set and get the win.”
The American will face Roland Garros finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia next.
Hsieh Su-Wei from Chinese Taipei came out firing on all cylinders in a highly entertaining 6-1 7-6(4) win over another American, Madison Brengle, under the lights.
The Australian Open quarter-finalist took control of the match from the start, weaving her web with creative offence, and then held off a late comeback by Brengle to seal the match in a tiebreak after 1 hour 23 minutes.
En route to the victory, Hsieh fired 22 winners and broke Brengle 6 times, to set up a fascinating contrast of styles in the next round against No 24 seed Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia.
Shelby Rogers closed out the night session on Stadium Court with her 25th win of the season, defeating Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, 7-6(2) 6-2, and she next will face Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic in the second round.
The American has yet to make it past the second round at Indian Wells, but comes into this year’s autumn edition in great form after defeating World No 1 Ash Barty at the US Open to advance to the Round of 16.
Rogers played a solid, contained match against Kalinina, striking 30 winners and breaking her opponent 6 times, and the Ukrainian did well to maintain the pressure, taking 10 games to deuce as she generated 10 break points over the course of the match, but she also struck 13 double-faults to give the American openings to break.
“She played an incredible match, kept fighting until the very last point,” Rogers said. “She definitely raised her level in the second. Had a lot of chances and she kept playing her best tennis on game points.”
Petra Martic from Croatia defeated American wild-card Katie Volynets, 6-4 6-4, and faces the No 2 seed, Iga Swiatek, who is making her debut at Indian Wells this week.
Italy’s Jasmine Paolini slipped into the main draw as a lucky loser after American wild-card Caty McNally withdrew due to injury, and the recent Portoroz champion made good on her second chance by defeating qualifier Mai Hontama from Japan, 6-0 3-6 6-2, to earn her first main draw win at Indian Wells.
Paolini will face No 14 seed Elise Mertens from Belgium next.
Although each was pushed to a first-set tiebreak, 2021 title-winners Yulia Putintseva and Liudmilla Samsonova also secured first-round wins on Monday.
Fresh off a runner-up finish last week at the inaugural Astana Open, Budapest champion Putintseva earned a 7-6(2) 6-1 win over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, while Berlin champion Samsonova ousted Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Kozlova, 6-4 7-6(6).
Putintseva was a break up 3 times against Petkovic in the first set before eventually wrapping it up in a tiebreak.
After failing to serve it out at 6-5, the Kazakh won the first 4, and the last 3 points of the breaker before cruising in the second set to advances to a face-off with compatriot and No 13 seed Elena Rybakina in the next round.
“I came all the way from Kazakhstan… and it was a very tough trip to get here,” she said. “I’m very happy to be here.
“It feels super cool to come back here… and I’m very happy to play in the desert again. When I came, I was like, ‘I’m back!'”
A break down in both sets, Samsonova dug deep to secure a victory in her tournament debut.
The Russian won 3 straight games to take the opener, and saved a set point with lucky loser Kozlova serving at 5-4 in the second set after seeing her own 4-2 lead slip away.
After leading 3-0 in the tiebreak, Samsonova eventually needed 3 match points to put the Ukrainian away and secure another meeting between compatriots, a date with No 25 seed Veronika Kudermetova.