AUSTRALIAN RULES: NO. 1 BARTY INTO VOLVO CAR OPEN QF
KVITOVA, MUGURUZA OUT AS QUARTERFINAL PICTURE TAKES SHAPE IN CHARLESTON; GAUFF, STEPHENS ADVANCE
Top seed and No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty helped maintain some semblance of order on an otherwise upset-filled day at the Volvo Car Open, booking a spot in the quarterfinals with a 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 win over Charleston native and sentimental favorite Shelby Rogers.
Barty had to work for it, overcoming nine double faults and her motivated opponent in the two-hour, 23-minute battle. She managed to close out the match with an ace, one of 10 on the night, bringing her tour-leading total to 123 in 2021.
“It’s strange playing someone so often so close together,” said Barty, who topped Rogers on two occasions earlier this year in Melbourne. “Sometimes that’s the way the draw works. You find yourself playing the same person over and over. Other times you won’t play them for years at a time. But Shelby’s an exceptional ball-striker. She always makes you work hard for every single point, every single match.”
Rogers, a former Volvo Car Open ballgirl, departs with a projected career-high ranking of No. 46 for her efforts this week. Barty, meanwhile, moves on to face Spain’s Paula Badosa, who a day after shocking 5th seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland dispatched American Catherine McNally, 6-3, 6-3.
Sloane Stephens, a champion here in 2016, kept her hot streak alive. After unseating defending champion Madison Keys on Wednesday night, the 28-year-old American turned away Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, 6-3, 6-4, in one hour and 20 minutes.
Stephens came into the match with a perfect 5-0 record against Tomljanovic, including a comeback from 6-4, 3-1 down in the third round of this same event in 2019.
Fitness-wise, Stephens might just be at her best level since reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in 2019.
“Considering that I haven’t played that many matches, I’m really pleased,” said Stephens, who won 11 of the last 12 points against Tomljanovic. “I’ve been training really hard, working really hard, so it’s paying off. It’s showing in the matches, which is always really nice, because who wants to work really hard and not see any results? It’s nice to be able to play good tennis after all that work.”
Shooting for a fourth straight win, Stephens will next face No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who defeated Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara, 6-0, 6-3.
Earlier in the day at the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza looked to be cruising toward the elite eight against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, blanking her opponent in a dominant opening set. But after re-tweaking her left leg, the No. 6 seed would retire leading 6-0, 2-all, sending Putintseva back into the Charleston quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.
“I already was feeling some pain in my first match,” said Murguruza, who ousted Polish qualifier Magdalena Frech in her opener on Tuesday. “The switch from hard court to clay was tough, in a very short amount of time. I started very well and, all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my leg. It just got worse. I didn’t want to continue without playing my best tennis. I wanted to give it a chance after seeing the physio, to continue fighting, but then it just got worse.”
“That’s the first time something like this has happened to me,” said Putintseva, who notched her first Top-20 win of the year. “I don’t even know how to react, what to do. She was playing really good tennis the first set. Tactic-wise, I wasn’t playing my best. Then, in the second, I tried to change to change some things, I tried to adapt. At some point she had some pain. I really don’t feel at the moment that I deserve to go through because she was playing really good tennis. I would have really liked to continue to challenge myself and see how I would do with this game in the second set, but it didn’t happen.”
Up next for Putintseva is Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic, who stunned two-time Wimbledon champion and No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1.
“I’m pleased with everything I showed today on the court,” said Kovinic, who was winless in two previous encounters with Kvitova. “It was really my day today. I felt really good out there. I was really looking forward to this match because we had two matches a few years ago and I lost both of them. It was very tough. This was my revenge today.”
Kovinic was two points away from victory in those first two meetings, both coming in 2016 at Indian Wells and Roland Garros.
“Today, I think everything I was missing in those two matches I did well,” she added.
No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia avoided elimination, rallying from a set down to defeat Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. Cornet, a semifinalist in Charleston in 2008, was hampered by seven double faults in the two-hour, 43-minute contest.
For her efforts, Jabeur earned a third meeting with teen sensation Coco Gauff of the United States, against whom she’s 0-2. Gauff, 17, advanced to her first WTA quarterfinal on clay via a 6-2, 7-6(2) win over fellow American Lauren Davis on the Althea Gibson Club Court.
“She not an easy player to play,” said Gauff of Jabeur. “She has a lot of variety. Good serve, good strokes, really good drop shot, slice game. We all know how good she is at that. So it’s going to be a lot different from the opponents I played all week. I’m excited. I like playing her, because you always have some fun points. Even if you lose the point, it’s still pretty fun out there, some of the shots she hits.”