MIAMI, March 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Tuesday afternoon’s quarterfinal match between Hsieh Su-Wei and Anett Kontaveit at the Miami Open presented by Itaú was the only one not to feature a Top 10 player. Had it not been for Hsieh’s third-round upset of World No. 1 Naomi Osaka or Kontaveit’s advancing after teen sensation Bianca Andreescu retired from their round of 16 match, both would have flown under the tennis radar during this fortnight.
Yet, it didn’t matter that this quarterfinal lacked a marquee name.
After all, between No. 21 seed Kontaveit’s power and No. 27 seed Hsieh’s magical on-court wizardry, their two-hour match inside Hard Rock Stadium had all the makings for a highly-entertaining contest. And, it was. Unfortunately, there had to be a loser between Hsieh, 33, and Kontaveit, who is 10 years her junior, because both were deserving of winning.
At a set each, Hsieh took a commanding 4-0 lead in the third set and marched toward the finish line. However, the native of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, couldn’t close it out. Instead, Hsieh lost her way on court while Kontaveit regrouped and kept fighting, just like she did in their one previous meeting back in 2015, when the Estonian from Tallinn prevailed on a hard court in Guangzhou, China. This time, Kontaveit made a serious rally and rebounded nicely to win seven of the last eight games of the match. The end result was she pulled victory from the hands of defeat and punched a ticket for her first WTA Premier Mandatory semifinal, beating Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Anett Kontaveit survives a 4-0 third set deficit to reach the @MiamiOpen semifinals!
Outlasts Hsieh, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5! pic.twitter.com/wVvUsqNyLa
— WTA (@WTA) 26. März 2019
During her on-court interview, Kontaveit was asked how she managed to come back and win. She said, “It’s tough to say. I was down in the third set and just trying to fight and stay in there as hard as I could. I’m happy I won.”
By advancing, the 19th-ranked Kontaveit now moves up into the Top 15 with the hope of adding to her one tour-level title, which she won at ‘s-Hertogenbosch back in 2017.
Kontaveit finished with 44 winners to offset her 50 unforced errors. She broke Hsieh eight times in 11 tries and fought through six breaks of her own serve. Meanwhile, Hsieh, never a powerful ground striker – she hit just five winners – instead relied on her skillful touch and the power of deception. She spun and sliced her way through the court, just like she did in taking out the current and former No. 1 players – Osaka and Caroline Wozniacki – but Kontaveit kept fighting. This time, it wasn’t enough for Hsieh to pull off another victory. Kontaveit outpointed Hsieh 95-90, which included 50 points on her returns.
“I really had to find my game in the second and the end of the third sets,” said Kontaveit, smiling throughout her interview. “I had to try to be more aggressive and dictate the points myself.”
Both Kontaveit and Hsieh shared a warm, collegial hug at the net. There was no drama or any terse exchange of words between these two contrasting but likeable professionals. Just admiration and appreciation for a good fight fought. Soon after, though, Hsieh broke down. As she walked off the court wearing a colorful Miami Open logoed towel over her head and face, there was a brief moment that showed her wiping away the tears from a good cry. That image captured everything you needed to know.
Barty prevails over Kvitova
Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty, two of the nicest players on the WTA Tour, squared off under the lights Tuesday evening with a semifinal berth against No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit at stake. For No. 3 seed Kvitova, with a chance at the No. 1 ranking in the world, and No. 12 seed Barty, who gave up tennis for 18 months to play cricket only to return, each contributed to a spirited battle inside Hard Rock Stadium that was occasionally interrupted by intermittent rain drops for the first three games before it got heavy enough to send the players back to the locker room for two hours.
Mind you, the night session was already 40 minutes late in starting due to a brief afternoon shower during the Novak Djokovic/Roberto Bautista-Agut match on the Stadium court. So a long night ahead was to be expected. At about 9:30 p.m. local time, tournament staff began the arduous process of drying the courts with squeegees and hot-air dryers, and the players finally returned at 10:30 p.m. to warm up before play resumed with Barty ahead 2-1 and on serve.
In a match characterized by many happy returns – Barty working her cross-court forehand to Kvitova’s backhand and the six-foot-tall Czech winning points consistently off her first serve – both player settled in for lengthy battle before a smaller, subdued crowd that remained after the rain delay. At the changeover following the ninth game, strains of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams lifted everyone’s spirits a little bit.
Finally, after two hours and 32 minutes of play, Barty prevailed with a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2 victory to advance to the semifinal round. It was her first career head-to-head win against Kvitova – they’ve played three times this year alone – and it avenged her lost to the Czech in the Sydney finals in January.
Barty came from down 2-5 and won the 74-minute first set in a tie-break 8-6 when Kvitova netted a playable forehand return that ended an eight-shot rally. The Aussie was never too down and, although she conceded a seven-inch height advantage to Kvitova, Barty found her way to take the early lead.
During a break before the start of the second set, Barty was visited by her coach, Craig Tyzzer, who offered some guidance and encouragement. “It’s not going to get any easier. You’re doing a great job,” he could be heard saying. “Keep it going!”
However, Kvitova charged back and leveled the match in the second set. She broke early for a 2-0 advantage and, after Barty got back the break in the fifth game, Kvitova returned the favor and got her second service break of the set. She consolidated it with an easy hold at 5-2 as the clock struck midnight. Then, on her next service game, Kvitova closed out the set 6-3 when Barty netted the final two points as the match reached the two hour mark.
In the final set, Barty broke Kvitova in the second game and with the consolidation, she found herself suddenly ahead 3-0, needing just three more games to close out the win. During the changeover, Kvitova signaled for a visit from her coach Jiri Vanek and also used her inhaler to thwart off an asthma attack. She took some tablets for good measure and drank plenty of different-colored fluids. Then, Kvitova promptly held serve and broke Barty for the fourth time to trail 2-3, trying to level the set on her next service game. However, Kvitova’s fourth double fault gave Barty three break points and, at 15-40, she got the break when the Czech hit a cross-court forehand wide – her 46th unforced error – to give the Aussie a 4-2 advantage. Barty held at love for 5-2 with her fourth service ace. Now, she needed to win just one more game and got it when, on triple match point, Kvitova double faulted for the fifth time to end the match.
Barty finished with 18 winners to overcome 24 unforced errors while Kvitova’s 38 winners were not enough to pull out a victory. Barty outpointed her opponent 103-96. The win assures her of moving into the Top 10 when the WTA rankings are updated next Monday.
The Aussie outbattles Kvitova, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/IpNPv52Dog
— WTA (@WTA) 27. März 2019
During a post-match interview on court, Barty praised Kvitova as “someone I respect. She’s a real champion and I enjoy playing her.” She went on to say, “I knew I had to take away (Petra’s) serve – her biggest weapon. I just needed to get it back on my racquet to win.”
Vondrousova – not Andreescu – last teen remaining
Bianca Andreescu isn’t the only teenager whose in-form presence has been burning up the hard courts this month during the Sunshine Double of Indian Wells and Miami. Enter 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who advanced to her second straight WTA Premier Mandatory quarterfinal with a late-night victory Monday over No. 62 Tatjana Maria of Germany, 6-4, 6-3. It set up an interesting quarterfinal on Wednesday night between Czech compatriots as Vondrousova, ranked 59th, will oppose No. 5 seed and former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova. A key stat: Vondrousova is 9-1 lifetime against players from the Czech Republic.
Against the 31-year-old Maria, Vondrousova hit 22 winners, committed just 16 errors and converted five of 10 break-point opportunities. While Maria compiled 20 winners, her 25 unforced errors were a big difference in contributing to Vondrousova’s victory.
“I just kept focusing on myself and playing my game, like, just run and fight,” said Vondrousova, as quoted by WTATennis.com. “Maybe dropshots were the key, and I served good in the second set’s ending. So, I t hint that was also the key.”
Earlier in her run up to beating Maria, which improved her season record to 13-3, Vondrousova scored earlier wins over seeds Jelena Ostapenko (22) and Elise Mertens (16).
“I’m feeling myself, I’m feeling my game, I’m just very happy to be healthy, and to just be here (in the quarterfinals),” said Vondrousova. “It’s amazing.”
Around the women’s draw
The in-form Chan sisters, Latisha and Hao-Ching, are through to the doubles semifinals after beating Daria Kasatkina and Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8. The Chans are seeded eighth, but lead the WTA doubles race to Shenzhen with 2,225 points. The Taipei natives lifted trophies at Hobart and Doha earlier this year. Previously, Latisha Chan was ranked No. 1 with partner Martina Hingis in 2017 when they won the U.S. Open and eight other tour-level titles.
News and notes
• The man who attacked Petra Kvitova with a knife during a December 2016 home-invasion assault that left her with severe stab wounds to her left playing hand was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Czech regional court. The CTK news agency reported the sentencing on Tuesday. Kvitova was sidelined until May 2017. The World No. 2 reached the Australian Open final earlier this year.
• World No. 5 Elina Svitolina addressed her Instagram followers with news that she’s taking a break of an indeterminate length to address the problem of knee pain. It may be the underlying cause for her losing her Indian Wells semifinal to Bianca Andreescu and in the second round to Wang Yafan. She wrote that she’s been struggling with knee pain for the past five weeks and an MRI scan confirmed it.
No. 21 Anett Kontaveit d. No. 27 Hsieh Su-Wei, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5
No. 3 Ashleigh Barty d. No. 3 Petra Kvitova, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2
Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka d. No. 3 Hsieh Su-Wei/Barbora Strykova, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 10-3
Monica Niculescu/Abigail Spears d. vs. Julia Goerges/Simona Halep, 1-6, 7-5, 10-8
No. 8 Hao-Ching Chan/Latisha Chan d. Belinda Bencic/Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8
Wednesday’s order of play
No. 18 Wang Qiang vs. No. 2 Simona Halep, 1 p.m. (Stadium)
No. 5 Karolina Pliskova vs. Marketa Vondrousova, NB 7 p.m. (Stadium)
All matches on Court 1
No. 6 Sam Stosur/Zhang Shuai vs. Monica Niculescu/Abigail Spears, 1 p.m.
WC – Victoria Azarenka/Ashleigh Barty vs. Daria Jurak/Raluca Olaru, NB 2 p.m.
Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 5 Gabriela Dabrowski/Xu Yifan