The first weekend of this year’s Miami Open ended with two top eight seeds shown the exit door, in a day that did not go down without drama and upsets.
All but one of seven matches played went the distance, and come day’s end, the last 16 line-up is complete with 13 seeds making it this far, joined by three other unseeded names, one of them a wildcard.
Mertens and Andreescu Sunday's winners on Grandstand
The clash between 16th seed Elise Mertens and 22nd seed Anett Kontaveit became the first woman’s match on Grandstand following a walkover Serbian qualifier Nina Stojanovic conceded to second Naomi Osaka.
Mertens and Kontaveit, both age 25 and meeting for the fourth time in their careers, were contesting their first clash since 2019.
Kontaveit was searching for her first win in three tries over her Belgian counterpart, having finished second best in their last two clashes, managing just four games under her belt in each occasion.
The match this time was a different script than the previous two, lasting an hour and 47 minutes, with three hot-and-cold sets, two going the way of Mertens, who clinched the win over the Estonian 6-2, 0-6, 6-2.
The opening set featured four breaks of serve, out of four break opportunities in total, three of those for the older Mertens who converted her first set point with her third ace of the match, down the tee.
Kontaveit’s second-set bagel was not a straightforward one as the Estonian faced resistance in the final game of the set, Mertens serving to stay in it, as she needed five set points before finally sealing the door shut courtesy of a double fault from her opponent.
The decider was the longest set of the match but in a twist, none of the games reached deuce as Mertens grabbed breaks in the third and fifth games, each on her first time of asking, enough to put her ahead 5-2.
There, the Belgian wasted no time seeing off her Estonian opposition, wrongfooting the latter with a backhand pass on her first match point to book her place in the next round, where she will face Osaka.
“I practiced actually with her the other day. I didn't know I was playing her. But I think it's going to be a great match,” Bianca Andreescu said ahead of her clash against Amanda Anisimova.
“She hits very flat, so I have to be ready for everything. She has a very good serve, but I'm feeling good out there and I think it's gonna be a very good match.”
The match did live up to the hype as the youngsters fought through their nail-biter, trading a pair of tiebreaks to ensure there will be a decider to decide the winner.
In the end, it is the more experienced Andreescu and her bag of tricks seeing her move past her American opponent 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 6-4 after more than two-and-a-half hours on court.
Muguruza scores sole comeback win of the day, Pliskova and Kenin crash out
12th seed Garbiñe Muguruza was handed a stern test by Russian wildcard Anna Kalinskaya.
One of 2021’s form players, the Spaniard needed two hours and 41 minutes to put away her 22-year-old opponent, who is in uncharted territory.
The pair racking up a total of 20 break point chances throughout the contest, 10 of those coming in the decider alone.
The Spaniard started the match slow, needing to save three break points in the opening game on her serve, before eventually holding serve after four deuces.
It was not until the seventh game when Kalinskaya took her chance and turned the tide after a loose game from the Spaniard saw the former go up 4-3 with the break,
A string of clean hitting by Kalinskaya two games later earned the Russian two set points which she wasted no time converting after outlasting Muguruza in a 19-shot rally that ended with a backhand winner.
The second set began the same way as the first, Muguruza enduring five deuces in a long service game, saving a break point in the process, to hold.
The Spaniard made her first move in the fourth game as she broke Kalinskaya to go up 3-1, only to be broken back three games later after missing a forehand pass.
It was a quick turnaround for Muguruza henceforth as she zoned in the last two games of the set, surrendering just two points while breaking the Russian once more before serving out the set to love with a backhand volley.
Going down 0-3 in the decider, Muguruza remained unfazed as she broke back two games later before coming out on top in the longest game of the match to equalise the score at three games apiece.
A deep backhand return against the Kalinskaya serve at 4-4 then put the Spaniard one game away from the last 16.
The Russian gave Muguruza one last push in the final game, denying the latter’s first four match points, two with forehand down the line winners of her own, and even earning herself a break point in the process.
The fifth and final match point was enough to see the Spaniard through in the end, who put her opponent away with a one-two punch that finished with forehand winner thus winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Muguruza’s win here is the tour-leading 20th of the season as the Spaniard’s stellar form this year continues to shine.
Two upsets of the day came on Butch Buchholz, first in the form of former world number one Karolina Pliskova, seeded sixth in Miami this year, who took her third consecutive defeat to Jessica Pegula in a space of less than a month.
The Czech, runner-up here in 2019, did manage to make things more competitive against the in-form 29th seed home player, coming back from 1-6, 1-4 down to grab her first set off the latter 6-4.
Going up a break 3-2, which progressed to 4-3 in the decider, Pliskova was close to ending her losing streak against the American.
Pegula, however, ensured there will be at least one American represented in the last 16 as she broke back before dropping just three more points in the final two games to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, nine minutes past the two-hour mark.
Pegula would turn out to be the only American through to the second week in Miami as fourth seed Sofia Kenin fell to 27th seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the day’s last single match on the same court.
Firing 40 winners, 11 of which are aces, and converting four of five break point chances, the Arab trailblazer snapped a three-match losing streak for her first win over the American in main draws.
Having been broken while serving at 4-5 in the second set which sent the match the distance, Jabeur looked set for another defeat to the former Australian Open champion after going down a break early in the decider.
Responding with a break back to love, Jabeur took care of her last three service games, while breaking Kenin once more in the process, before successfully serving out the win to 30 when a Kenin backhand drifted long, after an hour and 47 minutes of play.
Sakkari and Sorribes Tormo round up winners on Sunday
Two other winners on a day filled with action were 23rd seed Maria Sakkari.
The Greek saw off Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-0, 6-1 in 67 minutes, the day’s sole straight-setter.
Meanwhile, Sara Sorribes Tormo continued her march through the Miami draw, dismissing 21st -seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 in what was her third three-set win in a row.
The win earns the Spaniard, who recently won the Guadalajara title, her maiden appearance in the round of 16 at a WTA 1000 event.
Second week action in southern Florida commences as six out of eight last-16 clashes pit seeds against each other.
Saturday’s winners will play their respective matches first, with the first match on Grandstand witnessing defending champion and top-ranked Ashleigh Barty face off against three-time champion and former doubles partner Victoria Azarenka.
Meanwhile, fifth seed Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine and ninth seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic lock horns for the 10th time in their careers in the day’s first match on Court 1, an all-top 10 clash.
Second seed Osaka and Mertens will square in the middle of the day’s order of play on Grandstand, with Andreescu and Muguruza taking the court at night to close out proceedings here.
Another match featuring a Czech player is up on Court 1 following the clash between Kvitova and Svitolina as 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova faces seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka.
An all-women line-up on Court 1 will see Anastasija Sevastova and wildcard Ana Konjuh battle out in a clash of unseeded players after that, followed by Sakkari and Pegula, both of whom will go head-to-head for second time in their careers.
Jabeur and Sorribes Tormo will concluded the day’s schedule on Court 1, the pair contesting their fifth meeting and second in a main draw, the last coming in Rabat back in 2016.