Stephens Begins Her Title Defense At Miami Open With A Win

MIAMI, March 23, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

At the start of this week’s Miami Open presented by Itaú, there were five former women’s champions in the main draw of the women’s singles. However, after three days of this year’s fortnight, there are now only three: defending champion Sloane StephensVenus Williams and Serena Williams. Each of the Americans won their respective second-round matches on a sun splashed Friday afternoon at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens.

The No. 4 seed Stephens is bound for the third round. She beat No. 58 Ons Jabeur, 6-2, 6-3, after losing her previous outing to the Tunisian last year at Moscow. This time, Stephens needed just 70 minutes as she maintained control for much of the match. Meanwhile, eight-time champion Serena Williams dispatched No. 63 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, for her 76th lifetime win in Miami and her sister, three-time champion Venus Williams, moved into the third round with an upset of No. 24 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

“It’s tough when somebody doesn’t give you a lot of rhythm,” said Stephens, during her post-match press conference. “(Jabeur) can hit some great shots. You have to be ready for that and accept that during the match because that’s just what she does. It was tough, but happy to be through.”

Stephens converted 50 percent of her break points – five of 10 – and although she had only nine winners to 12 for Jabeur, it was Jabeur’s 46 unforced errors that was her undoing.

Next for Stephens will be a third-round matchup with Tatjana Maria of Germany, who beat No. 29 seed Camila Giorgi of Italy, 6-3, 6-4.

Not so lucky was Johanna Konta of Great Britain, who lifted the trophy in Miami in 2017 but whose ranking this year has fallen to No. 38. She lost to No. 18 seed Wang Qiang of China, 6-4, 6-0. Konta converted just one of 11 break-point opportunities while Wang broke her opponent five times during the one hour and 24 minute match on Court 9. She lost a day after 2016 Miami Open winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus fell to No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia of France.

Around the women’s draw

• Going into her debut at this year’s Miami Open, World No. 1 and top seed Naomi Osaka of Japan had won 62 straight matches when winning the first set. Against qualifier Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium on Friday, Osaka easily won the first set 6-0. Soon after, she made it 63 straight as she went on to a 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1 win to set up an Australian Open rematch between her and Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan in Saturday’s third round. Hsieh beat Alison Riske of the United States, 6-2, 7-5.

The scoreline doesn’t really reflect how dramatic it was for me,” Osaka said after her win. Later on, she tweeted: “Tough match today, silver lining is somehow got a key to the city? …”

• Speaking of rematches, Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu and Germany’s Angelique Kerber each won their second-round matches during the afternoon session and will close action on the Stadium court Saturday night, less than a week after facing each other in the BNP Paribas Open final at Indian Wells. First, the 24th-ranked Andreescu improved to 30-3 in all competitions as she defeated No. 32 seed Sonia Kenin of the United States, the last player to beat her, 6-3, 6-3. Then, Kerber righted herself after dropping the first set against qualifier Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic and won, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. It should be noted that Kerber had a medical timeout during the second set, in which she had treatment on her thigh.

• No. 2 seed Simona Halep of Romania advanced to the third round over qualifier Taylor Townsend of the United States, 6-1, 6-3, in just over an hour. In the opening set, Halep saved all four break points against her and broke Townsend three times, plus two more times in the second set.

• The resurgent Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who won last month in Dubai with an impressive performance and reached the Indian Wells semifinals, was frustrated by Yulia Putintseva’s consistency, and the No. 23 seed lost, 6-3, 7-5. Putintseva, ranked No. 44 from Kazakhstan won four consecutive games to earn the opening set and broke Bencic as she served for the second set. Bencic has not won in Miami since 2015 and she’s now lost two straight after winning a dozen in a row. Next for Putintseva is No. 11 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who beat Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 0-6, 6-4.

• Arguably the biggest upset of the day involved No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. She fell to Croatian-born Ajla Tomljanovic, who now lives in Australia, 6-3, 6-4. It’s been a tough season thus far for Sabalenka with early-round losses in four of the biggest events so far. She went out in the third round of both the Australia Open and Dubai and the fourth round at Indian Wells. Her second-round exit in Miami was unexpected and dropped her season win-loss record to 14-6. But, as Matt Roberts of The Tennis Podcast tweeted after her latest defeat, “It’s hardly a crisis. Losses against Kvitova, Anisimova, Bertens, Bencic, Kerber, Tomljanovic.” And, let’s not forget that Sabalenka has won a title this year at Shenzhen back in early January.

What they are saying

• Serena Williams, during her on-court interview after beating Rebecca Peterson on Stadium court: “It’s super special. I love playing in Miami. In the past, I’ve done real well here. (Laughs) It’s great. I’ve live real close to here; I get to stay at home and relax.” After struggling in the second set, she reflected: “I knew I could play a lot better than I’ve been playing. I said, ‘Okay, you’re better than this, Serena.’”

• Daria Kasatkina of Russia , who beat wild card Cori Gauff, 6-3, 6-2, said during a Tennis Channel interview that she was impressed by the American junior’s serve and suggested that it will only get more lethal when she adds more angles and hits her spots better. The No. 14 seed Kasatkina was asked how she dealt with playing against a 15-year-old. She said, “As my favorite player, Rafael Nadal, who respects all the opponents … doesn’t matter who he is playing against, he is playing the same tennis, he has the same attitude. I’m trying to do the same.”

What they are tweeting

So, what exactly do tennis players do on their day off from the Miami Open? If you’re World No. 2 Petra Kvitova, you go check out the Miami design district and enjoy some ice cream – maybe try the local favorite mango? – along the way, too.

The No. 3 seed Kvitova, who faces No. 26 seed Donna Vekic at noon to start play on the Grandstand court, on Friday tweeted:

Second round results

No. 1 Naomi Osaka d. Q-Yanina Wickmayer, 6-9, 6-7 (3), 6-1
No. 27 Su-Wei Hsieh d. Alison Riske, 6-2, 7-5
Q-Monica Niculescu d. No. 20 Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-2
No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki d. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-4, 6-4
Ajla Tomljanovic d. No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka, 6-3, 6-4
No. 21 Anett Kontaveit d. Amanda Anisimova, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4
Bianca Andreescu d. No. 32 Sofia Kenin, 6-3, 6-3
No. 8 Angelique Kerber d. Q-Karolina Muchova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3
Victoria Kuzmova d. No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5
No. 5 Karolina Pliskova d. Petra Martic, 6-3, 6-4
Alizé Cornet d. No. 30 Mihaela Buzarnescu, 7-6 (7), 6-1
Yulia Putintseva d. No. 23 Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 7-5
No. 11 Anastasija Sevastova d. Katerina Siniakova, 6-2, 0-6, 6-4
No. 16 Elise Mertens d. Pauline Parmentier, 6-2, 7-5
Marketa Vondrousova d. No. 22 Jelena Ostapenko, 7-5, 6-1
Tatjana Maria d. No. 29 Camila Giorgi, 6-3, 6-4
No. 4 Sloane Stephens d. Ons Jabeur, 6-2, 6-3
Wang Yafan d. No. 6 Elina Svitolina, 6-2, 6-4
No. 25 Danielle Collins d. WC-Whitney Osuigwe, 7-6 (5), 6-0
No. 18 Wang Qiang d. Johanna Konta, 6-4, 6-0
No. 10 Serena Williams d. Rebecca Peterson, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
No. 14 Daria Kasatkina d. WC-Cori Gauff, 6-3, 6-2
Venus Williams d. No. 24 Carla Suárez Navarro, 7-6 (4), 6-1
LL-Polona Hercog d. Q-Misaki Doi, 7-6 (4), 6-4
No. 2 Simona Halep d. Q-Taylor Townsend, 6-1, 6-3


• Amazing matchups: Women’s No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka and men’s No. 4 seed Roger Federer headline Saturday’s day session at Hard Rock Stadium. Osaka will face No. 27 Su-Wei Hsieh in the second match on Stadium Court after Noon (4 p.m. London, 5 p.m. Central European Time), and Federer will take on qualifier Radu Albot of Moldova, not before 4 p.m. local time (8 p.m. London, 9 p.m. Central European Time). An entriguing matchup – actually a rematch – between BNP Paribas Open champion Bianca Andreescu and finalist Angelique Kerber will be on Stadium court not before 9:30 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Sunday London, 2 a.m. Sunday Central European Time) to highlight the night session. One other women’s showdown among seeds features No. 15 Julia Goerges of Germany facing No. 19 Caroline Garcia of France, which is first on Butch Buchholz at 11 a.m. local time (3 p.m. London, 4 p.m. Central European Time).