The seeds in the top half of this year’s Miami Open draw came out to play Thursday. With 14th seed Victoria Azarenka already into the third round after receiving a walkover the day before, there were 15 spots left to be filled.
Notably, Barty and Halep, alongside fellow top-eight seeds, Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina, were all taken the distance, with Barty and Sabalenka winning from at least a match point down in their respective encounters.
Barty and Sabalenka save match points en route to wins
World number one and defending champion Barty has her top ranking and status on the line this fortnight in southern Florida. The Aussie needs to make the championship round at least to keep her top-ranked status.
Starting out her opener against Slovak Kristina Kucova, 2019 French Open winner Barty showed resolve in getting ahead by a set, closing out the opener 6-3 in 42 minutes.
Both women traded breaks to start off the second set, and Barty soon found herself with two break chances 3-3, and further one more at 4-4, but failed to capitalise on all three.
Trouble set in for the top seed soon after. Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Kucova broke the defending champion on her first opportunity to send the match to a decider.
The momentum continued in the Slovak’s favour as a decisive break in the fourth game of the decider and eventually finding herself up 5-2.
Serving for the win next, Kucova carved out match point, to which Barty responded with a forehand return winner down the line.
The top-ranked player eventually broke back before reeling off the next three games in succession to win 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 after nearly two hours 30 minutes.
Seventh seed Sabalenka was also forced to dig deep but unlike Barty, the Belarussian had to recover a first-set bagel and a break deficit in her opening match against Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova.
Down 0-6, 1-3, Sabalenka stormed through the next five games in a row to send the match to a decider, closing out the set with a thundering ace off her racket down the ad-side.
Both women traded four breaks of serve in the middle of the decider, which saw the older Pironkova go up 5-2, within touching distance of sealing the win.
Sabalenka had other ideas here as she responded strongly and recovered from that deficit, eventually sending the match to a tiebreaker.
The match reached its climax here as Sabalenka raced off to two match points by forcing an error off the Pironkova backhand.
The momentum then switched to the Bulgarian as she found herself with two match points of her own but, like Sabalenka, could not convert as well.
That proved to be the final straw for the Belarussian, who nailed four of the final five points of the match to close the nail-biter out 0-6, 6-3, 7-6(9) after two hours and 28 minutes of play.
Halep and Svitolina also taken to deciders
In the first match of the day on Court 1, American hopes were on the resurgent and in-form Shelby Rogers and she looked set for another upset win of her own when she led fifth seed Svitolina by a set.
The second set was a tussle between the duo, trading four breaks to kick off, and a further two in the eighth and ninth games, with Svitolina serving for the set in the latter.
The Ukrainian, who made the last eight here back in 2018, showed resilience in the end, despite needing four set points, to break Rogers and close out the set 7-5, after a volley from the American went wide.
The decider was a more straightforward affair as Svitolina took the decisive break lead in the sixth game and never looked back, serving out the match to 15 on her third match point to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, in exactly two-and-a-half hours.
Halep was also forced to dig deep but needed less than time on court compared to the likes of Barty, Svitolina and Sabalenka.
The Romanian took on Caroline Garcia of France in her opener and the Frenchwoman played a solid opening set, closing it out on her serve with her third ace of match in 32 minutes.
Halep soon found herself down a break in the following set but took advantage of a loose Garcia service game, as a couple of errors proved costly for the Frenchwoman, allowing Halep to break back and level the score at three games apiece.
That game proved to be decisive for the Romanian, who ran away with nine of the next 10 games, bagelling her opponent in the decider to record a 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in an hour and 50 minutes.
Kvitova and Kerber among other winners, Keys and Gauff exit
Left-handed multiple Grand Slam winners Kerber and Kvitova were among other notable winners, their respective wins being the two quickest of the day, each needing under 65 minutes to book their spots in the third round.
Kerber won in emphatic fashion as she swat aside Renata Zarazua, the Mexican qualifier, 6-0, 6-0. It is the German veteran’s fifth double bagel win of her long career, completing the victory in 61 minutes on Court 1.
Also joining the German lefty is fellow southpaw and Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who also baked a bagel of her own en route to a 6-0, 6-4 win over Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, in a match that took 64 minutes to complete.
Two seeds, however, fell by the wayside, both home players in 18th seed Madison Keys and 31st seed Coco Gauff. Keys was shown the exit by Croat Ana Konjuh, who is on the comeback trail having been side lined past three years to undergo four elbow surgeries, in the first match of the day on Grandstand, the latter winning 6-4, 6-2.
Meanwhile, experience prevailed over youth late night on Grandstand as the 17-year-old Gauff was eliminated from competition by Latvian veteran Anastasija Sevastova, the two-time US Open semifinalist, despite having won the first set comfortably 6-1.
Other winners yesterday also include the likes of 2018 finalist Ostapenko, 2017 champion Johanna Konta, reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek, 11th seed Belinda Bencic and 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova.
The two highest seeds in the bottom half, Naomi Osaka and Sofia Kenin, feature on Grandstand, with two-time Australian Open winner Osaka taking on Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic while Kenin meets veteran Andrea Petkovic.
Other big names in action Friday include in-form Garbiñe Muguruza who goes up against Chinese youngster Wang Xinyu, and 2019 finalist Karolina Pliskova playing Wang’s compatriot Zheng Saisai, both matches being the first two women matches on Butch Buchholz.
In an all-American clash, 28th seed Amanda Anisimova takes on 2018 champion Sloane Stephens while eighth seed Bianca Andreescu goes head-to-head with Czech Tereza Martincova.
Other Americans in action include Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady who meets Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, while the in-form 29th seed Jessica Pegula takes on Australia’s Storm Sanders.