Twelve American women stepped on court as main-draw play kicked off at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday. It was a ninety degree day with intermittent winds, but no one was complaining. At close of business, eight American women remain, which includes both singles and doubles. Team USA lost our young ones today, Ashlyn Krueger [WC], Alycia Parks [Q], and [WC] Katie Volynets.
Sloane Stephens digs deep to defeat Heather Watson, 6-7(5) 7-5 6-1
Sloane began the first-round match breaking Heather’s serve, but Heather pressed right back grabbing a love break to 1-1. Despite errors on both sides, Watson held to 2-1. Heather had break opportunities in the next game, but Sloane held. The Brit was doing a great job using the pace that Sloane delivered so that weapon was less effective.
With Heather back on serve, she was using lobs effectively and running Sloane from side to side. You could see her doubles influence in her shot selection. She held, then broke to a 4-2 lead. With the set getting away from her, Sloane stepped up at the critical moment to break back, 4-3. Sloane’s next service game was a mixed bag of missed overheads, first serve winners, double-faults, an ace down the T, still coming up with the win. Heather was running down every ball. The score now, 4-4.
The next service game was quite long and second serves crept in for Heather. After a double-fault, she threw her racquet into the air, releasing frustration. Her ground strokes were still solid, but wouldn’t do. Sloane took the lead now up 5-4.
Back on serve to close out the set, the American blinked, missing shots and serving with less confidence, and Watson tied it up, 5-5. Sloane was wining only 43% of her first-serve points.
Heather stepped up to stay in the set with some errors, yet finding success changing the ball direction to get Sloane out of position. She held with an ace down the T, 6-5. Next Sloane holds and we go to the breaker.
The breaker went to 5-5, then Watson executed a beautiful passing shot going up 6-5. With an opportunity to close for the set, Sloane returned a second service wide. The over one-hour set to Watson, 7-6(5). I wondered if the results would deflate Stephens.
Heather started strong with a love break. The the game changer happened. The longest point and game seemed to take it out of the Brit. The game felt endless. It left Heather reaching for her inhaler and both players were bending over attempting to recover.
At 1-1, Stephens held despite errors to 1-2. At 2-3 to Stephens another long service game took it out of Watson. She faced multiple break points but produced aces and a closing down the T serve to set up a winner. Score now 3-3. The two continued their exchange of winners and errors while it seemed Heather was dictating and Sloane defending. At 5-5 Sloane averted what seemed a certain disaster to go up 6-5 after several deuce points. She followed up by breaking Watson with winners and an assist from her opponent.
As the score indicated, the third set was all Sloane. She was up 5-0, before Heather held serve. Despite a less than consistent day, Stephens remained composed and focused. There were no signs of irritation, she just played on and relied on her fitness to carry her though to the end, 6-1. The match duration was 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Sloane hopes to carry her progression into the next match against Fed Cup team member Jessica Pegula, who possess power and grit in equal measure. This match should not disappoint.
Although Heather Watson has not climbed into the upper ranking tier, she has been consistently in the Top 100 on tour for over a decade. Ask Pam Shriver about that accomplishment.
Madison Keys d. Kaia Kanepi 6-0 7-5
In-between Sloane and Shelby, I caught pieces of Madison Key beating Kaia Kanepi.
In brief, Keys took the first set in 16 minutes. Then Kanepi started to grind like she can. They went toe-to-toe with Keys squeaking out the win tonight. Match point drew a huge celebration from the American. In her own words, Keys stated she was most pleased with, “staying focused to come back from losing a bunch of games… glad I could figure it out.”
Shelby Rogers d. Anhelina Kalinina 7-6(2) 6-2
Following Keys, Shelby Rogers took the court ~7:45 p.m. as the evening cool air arrived. The Charleston South Carolina born player brings a big serve and forehand to every battle. Post knee surgery in 2018, Rogers had a huge win over Ashleigh Barty a third-set set tiebreaker in New York. Would that Shelby show tonight? Well, yes and no.
The first set was in a word massive taking over an hour for Shelby to cross the finish line. A familiar story today. Both players produced powerful group stokes and were using lobs and moving well around the court. It was my first time seeing the Ukrainian play and
she was very even-tempered and focused.
The world No.62 Kalinina started with a quick break up 1-0. But Rogers held and caught the next to up 2-1. She was producing serves with a high bounce, in part due to the court conditions. She followed up with a great passing shot and a kick serve winner now, 3-1 Rogers.
At this point Anhelina dug in. She defended several break points, endured double-faults and pushed Shelby and was rewarded by errors. She held and then broke back to tie it up, 3-3. Shelby continued to press and a net cord decision gave the break to the American, now 3-4. An exchange of breaks and holds brought the score to 5-5 with a must hold from Shelby. The Ukrainian came up with a quick hold to 6-5 with Rogers following suit to push for a breaker.
With mistakes from Kalinina, Rogers went up 3-0 and that lead would be too much for her to overcome. A well-placed serve and an ace put Rogers in the strike zone at 6-1. A final error from Kalinina closed the first set.
In-between sets, Anhelina took a double MTO to address blisters on both of her feet. The MTO reminded me of seeing Nadal in Australia with a blister where he held the butt of the racquet in his palm. It seemed it might only be a matter of time before the pain would hamper the movement and perhaps spirit of Kalinina. While she made a valiant attempt to hold her place including a break of Roger’s serve to start, she did not have enough to hold onto the lead. She would win only one more game and double-faults crept in. I can only imagine that pushing off wasn’t easy with her feet in that condition. In the final game, Shelby closed on the third match point.
It will be interesting to see on Thursday if the court conditions impact the men in terms of holding serve. On the WTA side, there are so many players to watch: Caroline Garcia, Zheng Saisai, Alison Riske, Lauren Davis, Amanda Anisimova, Ajla Tomljanovic and of course Kim Clijsters versus Katerina Siniakova. Grab your sun screen and download the BNP Paribas Open App. to keep up with Day 2 main-draw action.