Today was the final day of first round action in Charleston and Monterrey and it was quite a successful day for the seeds in both locations. In Charleston, five of the seven seeds won their matches leaving them with a 71% success rate. The Monterrey seeds, however, were even more successful as five of the six seeds made it into the second round leaving them with a 83% success rate.
In a very high quality and entertaining affair Bethanie Mattek-Sands got past the 18 year-old American qualifier Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-4. Kenin hasn’t played much seniors tennis in her young career and she put in a really good showing of herself today, marking herself as one of the Americans to watch in the future. Kenin didn’t show any signs of nerves when she started out there on the main court as she went up an early break to lead 2-1. Mattek-Sands quickly improved her game and she got the break back and then broke again to go out to 5-2 lead. Kenin then managed to break back to 5-4 but Mattek-Sands perseverance showed and she broke to take the 6-4 set. Kenin started the second set strongly again and she broke in the first game of the set but it didn’t take long for the doubles world number 1, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, to break back and level the set at 2-2. It was on serve for the rest of the match until Kenin tightened up when serve to stay in the match at 5-4 down and Mattek-Sands took the match on a smash winner. Mattek-Sands will now have her doubles partner Lucie Safarova in the second round in what will be a highly anticipated match.
Defending champion Heather Watson got her title defence in Monterrey underway as she struggled to get the 6-2, 6-7(7-9) 6-4 win over Nina Stojanovic. Watson had opportunities to wrap the match in straight sets but she really seemed to tense up when she had her chances. Eventually she got it done but she’s going to need get better at holding her nerve this week if she wants to go any further in her title defence. Watson went out at the start of the first set hitting freely without worrying about the title defence and she was bossing Stojanovic around. She got the early break to lead 2-0 and then when Stojanovic was serving to stay in the set at 2-5, Watson produced some great backhands to close out the 6-2 set. The second set got trickier because I believe Watson started thinking about all the points she has to defend this week. Watson was still able to hold her ground and she didn’t get her serve broken as a tiebreaker was forced. In the breaker, Watson had TWO match points that she failed to capitalise on and then the set went to the Serbian. Even though Watson played a messy second set, Stojanovic was still playing well so there was a lot of questions as to who was the favourite going into the final set. Watson got in the early break to lead 2-1 at the start of the third and that’s all she needed as there was no other breaks of serve on the way to the tough three set win. Despite the tight scoreline the major thing Watson can take away from this match is that her serve didn’t get broken at all, which is a major confidence builder.
Back in Charleston, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her fantastic run of form this year as she got past her first round opponent, Aleksandra Krunic 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. I would have thought Lucic-Baroni’s least favourite surface would have been clay because she is a power player but after her match she revealed that clay is her favourite surface. This has changed my expectations of the results I thought we would be seeing from the Croatian over the clay court season and I am starting to second guess predicting her to go out early in Charleston. Lucic-Baroni came out looking fresh and she was stricking the ball beautifully as she didn’t face a break point en route to an extremely dominant 6-1 first set. Krunic could have been downhearted over this dominant first set but she came back even strong in the second set. Neither woman was holding their serve easily in the second set as Lucic-Baroni got broken three times throughout but she also broke Krunic twice on the way to the match being taken to a third. Lucic-Baroni was able to find some more rhythm for the final set and she didn’t face a break point and broke Krunic twice on the way to the victory. She has now set up a challenging second round with the in-form Mona Barthel, who also had a surprisingly deep run at the Australian Open.
Our feature match saw Francesca Schiavone play a set like it was the 2010 French Open again as she really fought hard against world number 1 Angelique Kerber before going down 4-6, 6-0, 6-4. This was great to see from the Italian and if she had been able to sustain that level for the second set the match would have been really epic. Kerber started slightly sluggish but it was all down to Schiavone as she played some incredible tennis on the way to breaking and going on to lead 3-0. Kerber warmed into the match and she was playing some good tennis but Schiavone was able to fend her off and stay on serve until she was serving for the set at 5-3. Kerber managed to get the break back with a stunning on-the-run backhand but Schiavone really dug deep the game after and broke again to take the match. Schiavone started to fatigue and her level, along with her intensity, dropped for the second set; which Kerber powered through. There was nothing the depleted Schiavone could do against Kerber’s relentless backhand and she went down without a fight 6-0. It looked like the final set might follow the same trend as the set started with Kerber taking the early break and going on to lead 2-0. From there Schiavone started coming back to life but she wasn’t able to gather enough fight to get the break back and there wasn’t enough break of serve on the way to Kerber taking the match. I think this will be a good match for Kerber because she was able to play someone who was playing some of their best tennis and still come out on top.