The two top seeds at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San José, California, Elise Mertens and Elena Rybakina, advanced to the quarter-finals after going the distance against Kristina Mladenovic and Claire Liu respectively on Wednesday.
"It was not an easy match. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. Claire [Liu] played well and I needed more time to feel the ball, to adjust to all the conditions. It took me the first set, but then I started to serve better and played overall better. I'm just happy with my win today. Elena Rybakina
Mertens, the No 1 seed from Belgium, took down France’s Mladenovic, 6-2 4-6 6-4, while 2nd-seeded Rybakina from Kazakstan, won a wild contest over American Liu, 2-6 6-0 6-2.
Behind 38 winners and 6 breaks of serve, Mertens battled through her opening match in 2 hours 40 minutes, was taken to a deciding set after failing to gain a straight-sets victory.
“I’m very, very, very thrilled. I think I can still improve… but at the end, I just wanted to win so badly,” Mertens said on-court after the match. “Mentally, I was prepared for a battle, and I got the hours in today.
“It was a very physical match,” she later told reporters. “I didn’t really find my rhythm well today… sometimes it doesn’t come easy.
“I think in the second set, she started to feel the ball a little bit better with less mistakes.
“It’s just important to win the last ball and to keep fighting as I did today. I’m just pleased that I got through this one.”
Mertens reached the last 8 for the 5th time this year, and made it to the semi-finals in San José back in 2018, where she lost to eventual champion Mihaela Buzarnescu.
She will meet Yulia Putintseva, the 8th seed from Kazakstan, in the quarters, who rallied from a set down to defeat Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic, 3-6 7-5 6-3.
“She a very good defender. She has some good hands too, with a lot of a drop-shots,” Mertens assessed. “It will be a difficult task to get through her, but that’s the way I have to play, to attack a little bit more than today.”
Down a set and staring down a 0-40 deficit at 4-4 in the second, Putintseva saved 10 of the 11 break points she faced from then on to book a spot in her first hardcourt quarter-final since last summer’s US Open.
In all, Putintseva saved 15 of the 17 break points, and fired 33 winners to Tomljanovic’s 20.
“I just was keeping in mind that I had to stay there, be there every point,” Putintseva said after the match. “In the first set, I didn’t start so well and felt like my ball was flying a little bit.
“I managed to stay lower to the ground and just be a little bit more patient, use a little bit more angles, and I think it worked well.
“In the third set, I was feeling great and was able to bring my level a little bit higher and that’s what gave me the lead.
“But Ajla was playing really good, very solid tennis. I think it was a really great match today.”
Also through to the last eight by the close of the day session was Rybakina, fresh off a 4th-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics games just 5 days ago.
The World No 20 was slow to start in her tournament debut and lost her serve twice in the first set.
“It was not an easy match. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Rybakina said in her on-court interview. “Claire played well and I needed more time to feel the ball, to adjust to all the conditions.
“It took me the first set, but then I started to serve better and played overall better. I’m just happy with my win today.”
She broke Liu 5 times in the second and third sets to defeat the American wild-card for the second time in over a month and advance to her 5th quarter-final of the season.
By the end of 95 minutes, Rybakina tallied 28 winners to 20 unforced errors, and never lost serve herself in the two sets she won.
“The serve was much better in the second and third sets. I actually felt that in the first set that I was doing the correct things and that it was just a few mistakes. It turned around completely,” Rybakina sad later in her post-match press conference.
“In the second set, I focused a bit more on my serve and I hit a few good returns. After this, I felt like she dropped a little bit of her level on the first serve, so it was easier for me because she was serving more second serves. In the third, it’s difficult to maintain the level, because I played a little bit risky in the second set, but I found my way and it was good.”
Rybakina plays No 7 seed Danielle Collins, who stole the show with a thrilling comeback win over fellow American Sloane Stephens.
Playing under the lights, Collins rallied from both a set down as well as a break down early in the third, to advance 3-6 6-4 6-3.
She landed just 41 percent of her first serves in the opener and was broken 3 times, losing the last 4 games to fall a set behind but an early break of the Stephens serve at 1-1 in the second set helped propel her forward into a decider, where she rallied from 2-0 down and cap a 2 hour 10-minute victory.
“I got off to not a bad start and then there were some bumps along the way,” Collins said in her on-court interview. “Playing against Sloane, and being the consistent player that she is, it required a lot more concentration on my part today than other matches that I played recently.
“It required hitting a lot more balls and more patience to win some of those tough points.
“When you’re not playing at your ideal self, I think you have to walk yourself through step through step, and I just tried to make little improvements along the way, especially with the serving.
“I tried to get my first-serve percentage up. I saw the numbers in the first set and I wasn’t happy about that.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I get really locked in to what I’m doing, but luckily, piece by piece, I got myself into a better situation and made better decisions when it really meant something.”
Collins is making her third appearance at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, and now a win away from matching her 2018 trip to the semi-finals.
She won her first career WTA title last month at the Palermo Ladies Open and has now won 7 straight matches, dropping just one set, to Stephens, in the process.
“That was a really hard fight,” said Collins after the competitive match. “I really had to lock in to what I was doing. It was hard at times both mentally and physically but I just took it point by point.”
In doubles action, the 3rd-seeded pair of Australia’s Ellen Perez & Kvetoslava Peschke from Czech Republic downed China’s Zhang Shuai & Eri Hozumi from Japan in a quick 57 minutes.
The No 3 seeds won 5 of the match’s first 6 games, ultimately cruising to a 6-3 6-1 win to become the first team to make the semi-finals.
Catherine McNally & CoCo Vandeweghe are also through to the semi-finals, advancing after Russia’s Valeria Savinykh & Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine retired with the score standing at 6-4, 6-5 in the American pair’s favour.
Britain’s Tara Moore, partnering America’s Emina Bektas, reached the quarter-finals with a win over Peyton Stearns & Maribella Zamarripa, also from the USA, 6-4 1-6 [12-10], and will play 2nd seeds Darija Jurak & Andreja Klepac, from Croatia and Slovenia respectively, for a place in the semis.