Britain’s Heather Watson came through qualifying at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati at the weekend, and scored an impressive first-round win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Monday, earning herself a second-round encounter with World No 1 Ash Barty.
It's going to take some time to adjust, without a doubt. But we'll just keep chipping away and try and get the best chance in each and every match. This is a place where I've never quite felt 100 per cent comfortable. But we've got New York right around the corner. This period of the year is always an enjoyable one, I can't wait to get started back into some matches again. Ash Barty
Watson, who was 3-2 down in the second set when rain stopped play, returned to seal the victory, claiming 72 per cent of her first-serve points and saving 4 break points en route to her 6-2 3-6 6-1 win over the Belarusian in just over 2 hours.
The result marks her best run on the WTA tour since her round of 16 appearance at the Viking Open in Nottingham and the Viking Classic in Birmingham, where she was a semi-finalist, and then losing opening matches at Eastbourne, Wimbledon, and the Olympics.
The 29-year-old arrived in Cinci with a win-loss tally of 7-14, and a singles ranking of 67, which reflects the torrid season she has had this year.
Starting as a qualifier, seeded 11th, Watson delivered a commendable performance against America’s Katie Volynets, 5-7 6-2 6-2, and then upset Rebecca Peterson, the 4th seed from Sweden, 6-4 4-6 6-3, to reach the main draw.
Interestingly, this is the first time that Watson has reached the second round in Cincinnati since she started playing here in 2013, while her clash with Barty is the first meeting between the two on the WTA Tour.
The top seeded Australian skipped Montreal last week after losing early in Tokyo, opting to train in the Bahamas instead.
“I’m looking forward to now changing back to hard courts and trying to find some rhythm and some groove,” she said on Monday. “It feels like a long time since I’ve played on [US] hard courts.
“Miami [in March] was my last hard court tournament, and the conditions there are vastly different to here.
“It’s going to take some time to adjust, without a doubt. But we’ll just keep chipping away and try and get the best chance in each and every match.”
The reigning Wimbledon champion admitted it could take some work for her to feel at ease on court this week.
“This is a place where I’ve never quite felt 100 per cent comfortable,” the Australian said. “But we’ve got New York right around the corner.
“This period of the year is always an enjoyable one, I can’t wait to get started back into some matches again.
Meanwhile two-time Western & Southern Open finalist Angelique Kerber led a host of winners into the second round of the event, including Elise Mertens and Paula Badosa, on Monday evening in Cincinnati.
In the night match, Kerber rolled past Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-2 6-2, in an hour 9 minute battle between two of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw.
The German claimed a 3-1 lead in their head-to-head, despite Sakkari having won their most recent clash earlier this year at the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne.
The victory continues a run of excellent form for Kerber, who is now 11-1 in her last 12 matches.
Kerber excelled against Sakkari’s second serve, winning nearly 81 percent of those points, and her return game served her well during a first set, which was more closely-contested than the scoreline implies.
The pair exchanged breaks twice before Kerber took command, breaking Sakkari in the Greek’s final 2 service games to grab the opener and then sweeping through the second to finish.
Next up for Kerber is the No 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who leads their head-to-head 9-5.
Earlier on Monday evening, No 15 seed Elise Mertens eased into the second round with a 6-3 6-4 win over Argentine Nadia Podoroska.
Mertens, who was a semi-finalist at the tournament last year, when it was played in New York, and a quarter-finalist in 2018, prevailed in an hour 40 minutes of play, converting 3 of her 6 break points.
Effectiveness with the second serve was the key difference between the two, as Mertens won 55 percent of points she started with that shot, while Podoroska’s success rate was at a less hefty one-third.
Despite frequent powerful forehands by the Argentine, it was Mertens who controlled the match on return for the most part.
Back into the second round, Mertens will next meet either former US Open champion Samantha Stosur or Elena Rybakina, one of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the field.
Elsewhere, Paula Badosa saved 5 match points before winning a marathon opener on a rain-plagued Monday evening in Cincinnati, pushed to the brink by Petra Martic of Croatia.
The Spaniard needed 2 hours and 34 minutes to quash the challenge from Martic, 4-6 6-4 7-6(9).
After splitting the first two sets, Martic broke serve in the very first game of the third, and maintained that advantage up to 5-4, where she served for the match and held 3 match points.
Badosa got the break back, though, right when she needed to, levelling the set at 5-5, then grabbed 2 match points of her own on the Martic serve at 6-5.
Martic, however, fended those off, and the pair entered the tiebreak, where at 6-6, after Martic’s 4th match point, a 20-minute rain delay took place.
After that nerve-wracking pause, the pair returned, where each player held one more match point before Badosa converted her third chance at 10-9 and sank to her knees in delight.
Badosa faces No 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus next.
A trio of Americans also claimed late-night wins on home soil on Monday evening, led by No 13 seed Jennifer Brady, who defeated Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-3 7-6(3) in their first-round clash.
Brady, this year’s Australian Open finalist, was never broken in the 83-minute affair as she picked up her first win since Roland Garros and she now meets 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, a 7-5 6-1 winner over Tamara Zidansek from Slovenia.
Alison Riske had an even easier time as she swept past teenage qualifier Leylah Fernandez, 6-2 6-2, in 80 minutes, claiming 14 of the Canadian’s 17 second-service points to charge to the win.
An all-American clash went the way of Shelby Rogers as she advanced past recently rampant Danielle Collins, who retired due to a left hip injury while Rogers was leading 6-4, 2-1.