Anisimova Reaches Charleston Quarterfinals By Knocking Off Top Seed Sabalenka

Amanda Anisimova (photo: WTA Tour video)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With quarterfinal berths on the line in the WTA 500 Credit One Charleston Open at Daniel Island in the South Carolina lowcountry, an abundance of exciting third-round matches dotted Thursday’s order of play, weather permitting. Plus, thanks to Wednesday’s storm interruptions, there were a couple of second-round matches left over to be decided, too.

The day began with a big surprise on Credit One Stadium as top seed Aryna Sabalenka, who accepted a wild card into the main draw, was upset by No. 15 seed Amanda Anisimova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour and 52 minutes to reach Friday’s quarterfinal round.

It was the 20-year-old American Anisimova’s third career victory over the Belarusian – the highest-ranked player she’s beaten this year – and a confidence-boosting triumph as she looks to rebuild following the sudden departure of Darren Cahill from her coaching team on the eve of Indian Wells last month. She’s strung together three nice wins this week after losing three of her previous five. The victory improved the 47th-ranked Anisimova’s win-loss record for the season to 13-5 and it was her sixth three-set win this year.

Anisimova struck six aces and hit 24 winners to 25 unforced errors. She converted five of six break points against Sabalenka and outpointed her opponent 84-77 to gain her fourth career Top 10 win. Anisimova broke out to a double-break 4-0 lead to start the third set and coasted. Although Sabalenka fired 10 aces – seven of them in the first set – she also committed 10 double faults and swatted 20 unforced errors.

Asked how she turned the match around after a disappointing first set, Anisimova said in her on-court interview: “[Aryna’s] an amazing player, who was playing well in the first set. I had to dig deep and try to find a couple of other options to get my game going. I really enjoyed playing today.

“I think it was just really simple, playing one point at a time – trying to play my best tennis. I think I was trying to play a little defense in some moments and that helped me to have some variety in my game. It’s something I’ve been working on.”

Later, during an interview with Tennis Channel, Anisimova, who improved her career record on clay to 21-12, said she enjoyed staying in the moment against Sabalenka. “No matter the outcome, I was just trying to play my best tennis and do what I could,” she said. “I’m happy I got the win. I enjoy playing in stadiums, in front of people, and having the Charleston crowd behind me was really nice.”

Next, Anisimova will oppose unseeded lucky loser Coco Vandeweghe of the United States. The 167th-ranked Vandeweghe, who has been hobbled by hand and foot injuries in recent years, held off fellow American and sixth seed Jessica Pegula, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. It was Vandeweghe’s fifth three-set win this season and it advanced her into her first quarterfinal in nearly a year.

Around the Charleston Open

The entire round of 16 took place, spread between Credit One Stadium and Althea Gibson Club Court, featuring top seeds Aryna Sabalenka, Paula Badosa and Karolina Pliskova. There were also two leftover second-round matches to be finished, which would ensure double duty for the winners. Ten seeds began Day Four but by the end of evening there were just four remaining after No. 1 seed Sabalenka, No. 3 seed Pliskova, No. 6 seed Jessica Pegula, No. 7 seed Leylah Fernandez, No. 9 seed Madison Keys and No. 12 seed Alizé Cornet were eliminated.

Among the highlights:

• No. 2 seed Paula Badosa, a Charleston semifinalist last year, overcame a first-set scare against No. 89 Claire Liu of the United States but righted herself in time to pull out a 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-1 victory in two-and-a-half hours. It moved the World No. 3 from Spain into her fourth quarterfinal of the season and it was Badosa’s first career win in three meetings against Liu after losing to the former junior Wimbledon champion in 2017 and 2018, when both players were ranked outside the Top 100.

Badosa hit 32 winners to 20 unforced errors, while Liu countered with 32 winners but committed 33 unforced errors. Badosa, who broke her opponent five times in eight tries, outpointed Liu 101-90 en route to her 18th win of 2022. It was just Liu’s second match against a Top-10 opponent.

• No. 4 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia returned to Stadium Court to finish what she started Wednesday when rain fell four points shy of deciding her second-round match against American wild card Emma Navarro. The World No. 10 was on court for just one game and wrapped up a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win that lasted an hour and 21 minutes spread over two days. Jabeur hit 21 winners and converted six of eight break points against the 201st-ranked Navarro, outpointing the University of Virginia sophomore 58-40. The victory advanced Jabeur to play No. 66 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania later on Thursday. The World No. 10 Jabeur beat Begu in a straightforward manner, 6-3, 6-2, in 69 minutes in back of 22 winners to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 51 Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, who upset No. 12  seed Alizé Cornet of France, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

• No. 7 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada, whose featured Wednesday evening Stadium Court match was cancelled due to adverse weather, finally played her first match of the tournament against No. 64 Magda Linette of Poland. It was relocated to the Althea Gibson Club Court and after Fernandez jumped out to a 5-3 lead, play was halted by rain after 46 minutes. Once play resumed later in the afternoon, Fernandez won the set 6-3. Then, Linette came fighting back. She won the two-hour and 35-minute match on her seventh match-point opportunity when Fernandez hit a forehand return wide that capped a 26-point final game.

Linette hit 10 aces and converted five of 12 break points against Fernandez. She outpointed the 19th-ranked Canadian 114-107 to advance against No. 61 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Linette returned to Althea Gibson Club Court late Thursday evening and rallied for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory that lifted her into her first quarterfinal of the season and leveled her record at 7-7. She will face No. 54 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who upset No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-1, in just 62 minutes to garner her eighth Top 10 victory. Alexandrova won 88 percent (23 of 26) of her first-serve points and did not face any break points.

• No. 10 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland won her seventh match in her last eight and ended the run of No. 9 seed Madison Keys of the United States, the 2019 Charleston champion. The one-hour and 34-minute match included a nearly-two-hour rain delay that followed the completion of the first set. However, the 21st-ranked Bencic benefited from the respite and won the last four games of the third-round match against No. 24 Keys to advance against Badosa.

The reigning Olympic champion Bencic hit 15 winners, made only 11 unforced errors and converted three of five break-point opportunities against Keys. She outscored Keys, who finished with 28 winners, 71-62.

Thursday’s Charleston Open results

Friday’s Charleston Open order of play

By the numbers

The 19 aces served by Zheng Qinwen of China during her second-round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia on Wednesday was the most in a single WTA match this season. It eclipsed the mark of 18 set by Naomi Osaka last week at the Miami Open during her semifinal match against Belinda Bencic.

“Quotable …”

“I walk to class. That’s super college-y. I have two great roommates that I hang out with all the time, which is really cool to have that. And then on the tennis team, I love the girls on the team, but it’s nice to be able to get away from that every now and then.”

– Wild card Emma Navarro, a University of Virginia sophomore and defending NCAA singles champion on being able to be a college student while also playing events on the WTA Tour.