Aryna Sabalenka fended off match points at the Miami Open presented by Itaú, before outlasting Tsvetana Pironkova, 0-6 6-3 76(9), while Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina needed 3 sets to advance over Caroline Garcia and Shelby Rogers. respectively.
I felt in the second set I was moving better, I relax my legs and I could work more with the legs, I needed a bit of extra power with her because she is a powerful opponent and I always have to push her back. Simona Halep
“Since a young age, my parents keep telling me, ‘It doesn’t matter what goes on in the court, you just have to fight, and if you will fight, you will get the wins’,” Sabalenka said.
Pironkova, a qualifier from Bulgaria, sailed through the first set with surprising ease and earned an early break in the second to lead 3-1, before Sabalenka finally pulled herself back level at 3-3.
Spurred on by her progress, Sabalenka blasted through the final 5 games of the set to tie up the match.
Pironkova took another early lead in the decider after Sabalenka double-faulted to drop serve to love for 3-1, but the Belarusian methodically clawed her way back, deploying a devilish drop-shot winner to get back on serve at 5-4.
It went into the tiebreak, in which Sabalenka used her typically aggressive play to ease from 0-2 down to 6-4 and double match point.
Pironkova saved both with deep hitting and, after they changed ends at 6-6, it was the Bulgarian’s chance to muster up 2 match points of her own.
Sturdy down-the-line hitting by Sabalenka pulled her through both those challenges, before she grabbed another 2 match points for herself, eventually closing out the match with an overhead winner.
Her next opponent is Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, the No 32 seed, who took care of American Danielle Collins, 6-3 6-2.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Halep was also forced to battle back from a set down in her opening match against Garcia.
The No 3 seed held an early break chance in the first game of the match, but the Frenchwomen saved it to hold.
At 3-2, Garcia, the World No 51, looked like she was in full control as she earned 3 break points set up by a stunning passing shot.
She broke to take the lead, and served out the first set in just 31 minutes.
Garcia took the momentum to break the Romanian into the first game of the second, and it was clear the World No 3 was struggling as she faced down another 3 break points in her following service game.
At 2-1 Halep called for the trainer and took a medical timeout to have work done on her right arm and shoulder.
Garcia had the chance to go up a double break but the Romanian stayed alive , at 3-2, Halep got herself back on serve at 3-3 as the match slowly shifted in her favour.
At 5-4, Halep earned a set point and took the match into a decider as she continued to receive treatment from the trainer on each sit-down.
She went on the offensive, sensing her French opponent was starting to make more mistakes, and was rewarded with a 2-0 lead before going up a 3 further breaks, with a great passing shot for 5-0.
Now just a game away from pulling off her comeback, Halep sealed the match with a backhand down the line winner at her first opportunity, 3-6 6-4 6-0.
”I felt in the second set I was moving better, I relax my legs and I could work more with the legs, I needed a bit of extra power with her because she is a powerful opponent and I always have to push her back,” Halep said later.
As for the arm and shoulder injury that nagged her throughout the match, she added: ”I just got treatment before coming here, it is painful but it’s not that bad, only when I serve I feel it so I hope to recover until the next one.”
Halep’s next opponent is the Latvian Anastasija Sevastova , who upset the young American Coco Gauff, seeded 31, 1-6 6-2 6-3.
No 5 seed, Svitolina, also dropped her opening set against another American, Shelby Rogers, before coming through, 3-7 7-5 6-3, after a tight contest in which she looked as if she was ready to chuck the whole thing in and head for the airport.
After losing the first set, she called out the trainer to look at her wrist and when she was broken early in the second, Svitolina begun to dump a worrying number of drop-shots, half-volleys and easy forehands half-heartedly into the net.
Rogers, who made the 4th round at the Australian Open and has played some of the best tennis of her career recently, was out-hitting her at every turn.
Nevertheless, Svitolina started hitting through the ball and sensed a chance when the American began to tighten up a little with the lead.
Although the Ukrainian continued to struggle to hold serve, she found ways to break back and managed to stay in touch on the scoreline, eventually breaking 6-5 for the second set.
“She’s striking the ball good,” Svitolina said of Rogers, “So I’m happy the way I bounced back.”
In the decider, she finished with 35 winners to 34 for Rogers, and once she finally took the lead at 4-2, Svitolina grew steadier and more confident..
“I had to adjust my game,” Svitolina said. “And just run for every ball.”
In the 3rd round, Svitolina will meet Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No 30 seed from Russia, who dismissed Nadia Podoroska from Argentina, 6-0 6-4.
More Grand Slam champions joined 2019 French Open champion Ash Barty in the round of 32, including her successor in Paris, reigning Roland Garros champion, Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who claimed a 6-4 6-2 win over Czech Barbora Krejcikova.
Powerful service returns by Swiatek propelled her to a 5-1 lead, but Krejcikova tightened up her game, at one juncture notching 10 points in a row as she pulled back on serve at 5-4.
Swiatek briefly faltered in the breezy conditions but rebounded to break for a one-set advantage and also took the initially competitive second after easing ahead a break at 4-2, riding the wave of momentum and easily holding for 5-2 with a thundering forehand winner, as the No 15 seed took her place after Krejcikova double-faulted on match point.
Later on Thursday, No 24 seed Angelique Kerber’s 6-0, 6-0 victory over qualifier Renata Zarazua was the German’s first double-bagel victory since she beat her compatriot Carina Witthoeft by that score in the first round of 2015 Wimbledon.
“The score, it’s a little bit different than the match was, because [a] few games were like really close and tough,” Kerber said, in her post-match press conference.
The former World No 1 needed just a smidge over an hour to bound into the 3rd round and set up an enticing meeting with another former World No 1, Victoria Azarenka.
The No 14 seed from Belarus advanced without hitting a ball after Germany’s Laura Siegemund was forced to withdraw from their clash due to a right knee injury.
2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia also claimed a victory on Thursday, as she overcame a lucky loser from Belgium, Kirsten Flipkens, 6-2 5-7 6-3.
Ostapenko converted 6 of her 8 break points against Flipkens, and will next face World No 1 Barty in the round of 32 on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Swiss No 11 seed Belinda Bencic had an easier time of it, beating Kazakh Zarina Dyas, 6-2 6-1, and will next meet Czech Marketa Vondrousova, the No 33 seed, who dispatched China’s Qiang Wang, 6-2 6-4.