Svitolina Wins Biggest Points, Advances In Miami

Elina Svitolina (photo: courtesy WTA video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As Day Four of the Miami Open presented by Itaú unfolded at Hard Rock Stadium on Thursday, American Shelby Rogers arrived for her second-round match against World No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine bidding for her fourth Top 10 win of her career. However, Svitolina, who came in leading their career head-to-head 3-0, felt she had some unfinished business. After all, Svitolina fell at this stage the last time the Miami Open was held in 2019. Although the final result was in doubt until late in the third set, it was Svitolina who managed the match the best and won the biggest and most important points.

Svitolina bested Rogers 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 29 minutes for her fourth straight victory against the South Carolina native. The win advanced Svitolina to the third round against No. 30 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who beat No. 48 Nadia Podoroska from Argentina, 6-0, 6-4.

As their late-morning match unfolded on Court 1, the 52nd-ranked Rogers and Svitolina contested a total of 34 points during their first three service games. Each worked hard for any advantage they could find while knowing there would be slim margins ahead. While Rogers was broken early, in the third game, she got the break back in the sixth. Then, she broke Svitolina to go ahead 5-3 and served out the 47-minute first set. Once the set ended, Svitolina took a medical time out to have her right wrist checked out and wrapped as a precaution.

Then, there were four straight breaks of serve to open the second set before matters settle down. However, from 4-3, Svitolina broke Rogers two additional times and won on her fourth set-point opportunity 7-5 to send the match to a decider.

In the final set, the match turned in Svitolina’s favor when she broke Rogers to go ahead 4-2. Although Rogers fought off two match points on her serve in the eighth game, Svitolina put the match away on her serve and won on her third match-point opportunity when she fired a down-the-line winner, her 35th winner of the match.

Svitolina finished with nine aces and broke Rogers’s serve seven times in 18 opportunities. She outpointed her opponent 107-102.

“It’s not always easy to play against Shelby,” Svitolina said during an on-court interview. “She was striking the ball good. I think when I was up in the first set, she started to find her game. She played a really good match.

“I’m happy how I bounced back. It was not easy for me. I tried to adjust my game to run for every single ball. It worked out well for me.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk asked Svitolina how it felt to be back in the win column after suffering back-to-back losses in Doha and Dubai. “I choose not to focus on the losing. Sure, it was a disappointment. I didn’t play well in Dubai where I always have played well and have great memories,” she said.

“Sometimes, it’s like you have to look forward – move forward – and not focus on [the] negative. I did a quick analyze the next day and stayed in Dubai an extra 10 days and worked with my fitness coach.

“I’ve regrouped quick and it’s good to get the win today. It wasn’t a perfect performance but a win is a win.”

Konjuh on comeback trail after four elbow surgeries

Oft-injured Ana Konjuh of Croatia, ranked 338th, scored her first Top 20 victory since 2017 as she took out No. 18 seed Madison Keys of the United States, 6-4, 6-2. The win moves the 23-year-old wild card into the third round against No. 15 seed Iga Swiatek, who defeated No. 39 Barbora Krejcikova, 6-4, 6-2

A junior champion at both the 2013 Australian Open and US Open, Konjuh turned pro at age 16. In 2015, she won her first WTA title at Nottingham on grass. Then, in 2016, she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open. The last time Konjuh won back-to-back WTA main draw matches was back in 2017 at Stanford University. Since then, she’s undergone multiple surgeries on her right elbow and missed much of the past three years.

Healthy again, Konjuh is working toward improving her ranking after being inactive for so long. On Thursday, she hit nine winners and took advantage of Keys’s 23 unforced errors. Konjuh broke her opponent five times in five opportunities and outpointed Keys 63-47.

“It’s great to be back at this level and playing good matches,” Konjuh said during a post-match on-court interview. “I’ve never played Madison before, so it was a challenge for me. Obviously, she’s a great player. I know both of us are big hitters and one of us is going to make more mistakes today. I’m thankful it wasn’t me.”

From the brink, Barty saves match point, snatches victory

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, playing her first WTA match outside of  her native Australia in 13 months, saved a third-set match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova of Slovakia, down 5-3 40-30, and pulled a great escape that would have made Houdini proud. She went on to win, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 – capturing the last five games of the nearly two and one-half hour Grandstand match. Next, Barty will oppose No. 54 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, who took out 94th-ranked lucky loser Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.

#NextGenATP rising stars draw attention

As the men’s singles draw wrapped first-round play with 16 matches spread across the Hard Rock Stadium complex, five of the 10 #NextGenATP rising stars in the draw were included on Thursday’s order of play. Perhaps, the most intriguing of them was Japanese qualifier Shintaro Mochizuki, 17, who took on Aussie qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis on the Butch Buchholz court. Although Kokkinakis won, 6-3, 6-3, Mochizuki showed lots of promise.

Asked by Tennis TourTalk what winning two rounds in the qualifying draw to earn a first-time berth in a Masters 1000 tournament did for his confidence, Mochizuki said: “It was amazing to be here. I think played well; I was there. The scores, 3-and-3, made me realize I can play with and beat these guys. I really look forward to what’s coming for me.”

Mochizuki, one of four Japanese players in the main draw, came in as the youngest player in the main draw, and his resumé includes winning the 2019 Wimbledon boys’ singles title. Meanwhile, Kokkinakis arrived in Miami ranked No. 243 and on the comeback trail from a right shoulder injury. He was looking to reach the second round in Miami for the second time in his career after having reached the third round in 2018 upsetting defending champion and then-World No. 1 Roger Federer in the second round as a 175th-ranked qualifier. Next, the Australian will face No. 29 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.

Fratangelo keeps winning streak alive

Recent Cleveland Challenger champion and qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo of the United States was featured on the Grandstand in an early afternoon match against former World No. 7 Fernando Verdasco, who was playing in his 36th Miami Open match in his 17th tournament appearance. While the 233rd-ranked Fratangelo was seeking his first match win in Miami in his third attempt after losing in the first round in both 2016 and 2018, Verdasco has twice been a Miami quarterfinalist, in 2009 and 2010.

As it happened, it was Fratangelo’s day to glow in the Miami sunshine. The young American beat the Spanish veteran 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 30 minutes in back of 20 winners – 11 of them service aces. Fratangelo, who has won eight straight – and dropped just one set in that time – improved to 11-3 in all competitions this season. Next, he faces Italy’s No. 24 seed Lorenzo Sonego in the second round.

“I feel great. It was a great effort by me. I’m really happy,” Fratangelo said during an interview that aired on Tennis Channel. “I fought off a lot of nerves, a little fatigue with all the matches I’ve played in the last week and a half. I’m super thrilled.”

Thursday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Thursday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Friday’s Miami Open order of play

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who reached the second round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Pedro Souza, admitted he once gave some thought to becoming an actor had his tennis career not panned out. When Tennis TourTalk asked him about his thespian aspirations, he shrugged it off with a good laugh.

“This is a question I was asked when I was a junior filling out my bio, and you have to respond and you have no idea how to respond. At that time, I really wanted to be an actor, but I don’t have the talent to be an actor,” Herbert admitted. If he had the talent, what kind of an actor would Herbert have wanted to portray, comedy, drama, mystery, action/adventure? He answered: “I think I pictured myself as someone really good looking who was just acting perfectly. It’s what I expected [at 16]. You don’t know what to answer, so you pick something that makes you dream and an actor is a job that makes you dream. It’s an amazing job. To be honest, it’s [a dream] far away now. A tennis player [was my dream] from the start. I always wanted to be a tennis player.”

Back to tennis, the 74th-ranked Herbert has won five of his last six matches, including a run to the Open 13 Provence final earlier this month. Asked how much it has built his confidence level, Herbert responded, “For sure, it’s very positive for me. I have played six matches of high quality. As a tennis player, you try to play the best you can on the day when you play. Right now, I’m doing on court what I should be doing the whole year. It’s great for my confidence, great for my tennis. I feel like I’m in a great place right now. 

“At the end of the [last] year, when I was playing my preseason, I was actually playing the best tennis I have ever played. These last two weeks, especially the week in Marseilles, has been unbelievable for me. I’ve been playing quality tennis from the beginning to the end. It’s been a really great feeling on the court. It’s maybe not the best I’ve ever played [in my career], but I’m at a good level right now.”