The first weekend of this year’s Miami Open witnessed the beginning of third round play, with five matches pitting seeds against each other.
The line-up of the day was a stellar one indeed, with the likes of defending champion Ashleigh Barty, Elina Svitolina, Aryna Sabalenka, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka all in action.
With Anastasija Sevastova into the fourth round after being handed a walkover by third seed Simona Halep, seven spots were left up for grabs.
Barty and Svitolina earn straight-set victories
Having been down a match point before pulling a Houdini, world number one and defending champion Barty looked set for what could be a tough ask as she took on fellow French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
The fourth meeting between the pair, Latvia’s Ostapenko last tasted victory over the Aussie in their first encounter, in Rome qualifying back in 2017, coming back from a set down to win.
Since then, however, Barty has not dropped a set and continued that trend yesterday, with a 6-3, 6-2 win, in 69 minutes over the 2018 finalist here, in the day’s opening match on Grandstand.
The opening game of the match saw four break points in favour of Ostapenko come and go but none were converted as Barty held serve before breaking the Latvian on her first try in the next game.
That break of serve proved decisive for the Aussie as she soon found herself serving for the set at 5-3, but things weren't always straightforward as she closed it out on her fifth set point after a backhand return from her opponent went long.
Ostapenko had a decent start in the following set, going up a break 2-0 with the loss of just two points.
The Latvian’s lead was short-lived as Barty reeled in six games in succession, and the match, converting her third match point after an Ostapenko forehand return landed wide.
Fifth-seeded Svitolina faced a familiar nemesis in 30th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia in their third-round clash, their second encounter in 2021, in the second match on Court 1.
The pair’s two prior meetings, dating back to the French Open last year were not straightforward but both going the way of Svitolina, and this one was no different with the Ukrainian prevailing once more.
The opening set saw each player broken twice, with one occasion seeing Svitolina with an opportunity to serve out the set.
Going to a tiebreak, the Ukrainian took control as she steamrolled her way to six set points and even though Alexandrova did save the first of those with a forehand return winner, an ensuing double fault on her part meant that the fifth seed is a set away from the next round.
The second set was also close to call, with two long deuce games featured in the middle of proceedings, the duo trading breaks of serve in each occasion.
A love service hold in the ninth game put Svitolina withing touching distance of the finish line, up 5-4 and the next game sealed the deal for the Ukrainian as three consecutive Alexandrova errors from game point up, the last of those being a double fault, meant that the former is through with the score 7-6(1), 6-4, in 98 minutes.
Belarussian duo Azarenka and Sabalenka advance
Going head-to-head for the tenth time in their careers, 14th seed and three-time champion Azarenka boasted an 8-1 advantage in her head-to-head against fellow former world number one Angelique Kerber.
The German, seeded 24th, was the first to take the lead here, recovering from a break of serve in the opening game and breaking the Belarussian twice to go up 3-1.
The ensuing Kerber service games were close as Azarenka had at least a break point in each of them, eventually converting those in the seventh and eleventh games, to break right back and an opportunity to close out the set, respectively.
After closing out the first set with an ace, Azarenka took the first three games of the second in succession as she broke her opponent twice, the second time with a backhand winner down the line.
The German did manage to recover one of those breaks back in the following game, and two comfortable service holds by each player ensued.
Serving down 2-4, Azarenka gave Kerber another look at her own serve as a couple of loose errors by the latter set up break points, which the Belarussian took on her second try after a Kerber forehand sailed long.
Azarenka would book her spot in the last 16, a clash with former doubles partner Barty, after converting her second match point with a forehand pass.
Another Belarussian was also in action yesterday, the seventh-seeded Sabalenka whom, like Barty, had to recover from match point in her opening match prior.
Facing off in a rematch of the final in the season’s opening curtain in Abu Dhabi which went the way of Sabalenka, the Belarussian and Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova contested a much closer match this time.
32nd seed Kudermetova was the first to move up by a break up, doing so in the third game and looked set to take her first set off Sabalenka when she found herself serving up 5-4, even having a set point of her own.
Sabalenka steadied her pace as the Belarussian broke back at the first time of asking three points later, with the set eventually progressing to a tiebreaker.
The tiebreak was a close affair but went the way of Sabalenka, who took the final two points, the last of those courtesy of a Kudermetova forehand error.
Much like Svitolina, who won the prior match on the same court here and, like Sabalenka, faced a Russian opponent, the Belarussian ultimately recorded a win with a similar scoreline.
Here, however, the second set was a more routine affair with the first eight games going the way of the server, two of those going to deuce, before Sabalenka zoned in on the Kudermetova serve, converting her second break point and then served out the match to love to complete a win that took 99 minutes.
Kvitova and Vondrousova keep Czech hopes alive, Konjuh conjures another top 20 scalp
Two Czech lefties recorded a seeded scalp of their own Saturday, the first of them being 2019 quarterfinalist Marketa Vondrousova, seeded 19th this year, who carved out a come-from-behind win to see off Swiss Belinda Bencic, the 11th seed, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Each of the three sets contested were close to call from the get-go but it was Vondrousova, who broke serve four times, one more than Bencic, which held the key to victory as the Czech saved a break point in the final game before closing it out with an ace after nearly two-and-a-half hours on court, concluding the day’s action on Court 1.
Under the lights on Grandstand, older Czech lefty Kvitova, the ninth seed, was on-song in her clash against 17th seed Johanna Konta, the former champion here, which kicked off after a rain delay, to close out proceedings on this court.
Dropping just three games, and hitting five aces while converting four of five break points in the encounter, the two-time Wimbledon champion booked her spot in the last 16 here for the third year in succession, winning 6-1, 6-2 in 58 minutes.
Arguably the story of the tournament, Croatia’s Ana Konjuh, former world number 20 and 2016 US Open quarterfinalist, fought past another Grand Slam finalist, this time the reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek in three sets.
The Croat, who saw off both Katerina Siniakova and Madison Keys in straight sets to get this far, did not have an easy day in the big points, converting four of 14 break opportunities, but did fire 10 aces and won 71% of first serve points to see off her Polish opponent 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, thus earning herself a fourth-round debut in Miami.
The players in the bottom half will have their go in contesting their third-rounders Sunday, with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin, Karolina Pliskova and Bianca Andreescu all in action.
Second seed Osaka takes on Serbian qualifier Nina Stojanovic in the second match of the day on Grandstand, while the clash of youngsters between Andreescu and 28th seed Amanda Anisimova will open the night session here.
Over on Butch Buchholz, Pliskova and Jessica Pegula, seeded sixth and 29th, respectively go head-to-head for the third in their careers, in as many as three weeks, with the local hope Pegula yet to surrender more than four games a match against the 2019 runner-up.
Also in action are Garbiñe Muguruza, the 12th seed going up against Russian wildcard Anna Kalinskaya, with 16th seed Elise Mertens and fourth seed Kenin also in action, against 22nd seed Anett Kontaveit and 27th seed Ons Jabeur, respectively.
Over on Court 3, 21st seed Elena Rybakina and 23rd seed Maria Sakkari will play their respective third-rounders, against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo and Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova, respectively.