Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu made a triumphant return to the Miami Open, navigating a tense opening set to solve Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova, 7-6(5), 6-2.
"I felt really good, mentally, out there," Andreescu said after the match. "That's the one thing I felt I was struggling with in Australia. I was just super positive and fought for every ball, no matter what the score was because in the first set, she had set points but I just kept fighting."
Andreescu was playing just her third tournament after missing the entire 2020 season due to a left knee injury, but only improved as the Butch Buchholz court clash continued, eventually easing into the third round in just under two hours.
The No. 8 seed was undoubtedly at the head of the pack after a breakthrough 2019 season, one that culminated with a maiden major title in Flushing Meadows where she ousted Serena Williams in the final. She returned to action 15 months later at this year’s Australian Open, and shook off a second-round defeat to Hsieh Su-Wei by playing the Phillip Island Trophy the following week, reaching the semifinals.
Opting out of the Middle East Swing to regain her fighting form, she showed forgiveable signs of rust early on against the 26-year-old Martincova, who played two qualifying matches and, once in the main draw, dispatched former world No. 25 Yaroslava Shvedova in straight sets.
Andreescu returned to action after 15 months away at the Australian Open in February (Getty Images)
Andreescu gamely rallied from 5-3 down in the first set, saving two set points on Martincova’s serve to ultimately force a tiebreak. The ensuing sudden death forced one more comeback from the Canadian, who reversed a 4-2 deficit to win five of the final six points for the set.
"It's different, that's for sure," she said when asked to assess her on-court swagger. "It's another year, very different conditions, not a lot of fans. I haven't played in a long time and it's my third tournament back, but as I continue to play matches, I know I'll get back into the groove of being back on tour. I'm feeling really good, I'm super proud of how I handled everything, including the heat. I was lucky to play fourth because it's not my favorite weather to play in.
"My feet were burning at one point, but that's another story!"
Saving two break points to open the second, the 2019 BNP Paribas Open and Rogers Cup champion took control, racing ahead 5-0 and held off a late surge from the qualifier to secure victory in a dramatic final game, out-rallying Martincova to draw a forehand error.
"I felt in the first set, I wasn't as consistent as I was in the second. That tie-breaker really said a lot because I put a lot of pressure, got to a lot of balls, so by the second set you could tell that she'd become discouraged and was going for more shots. That's part of my game style: I want to be very physical out there. I don't want to let any ball go, and just never give up."
In all, Andreescu struck an even 30 winners to 30 unforced errors and converted an impressive five of eight break point opportunities to book a third-round meeting with American Amanda Anisimova.
Seeded No. 28 in Miami, Anisimova revitalized her stop-and-start season with 6-3, 6-3 win over 2018 champion Sloane Stephens. A semifinalist at the 2019 French Open, Anisimova’s positive COVID-19 test forced her out of the Australian swing, and the teenager had won just one WTA main draw match all season.
“That was definitely really tough, and of course, when I went to Doha, I rolled my ankle,” Anisimova said after the match, “so it was a few tournaments in a row dealing with tough situations. I’m just happy that I’ve been able to stay healthy now, grateful for the opportunity that I have here, just to be able to play here. I’ve been training a lot the last few weeks, so I feel good mentally, and physically.”
Contemporaries on the junior circuit, Anisimova and Andreescu will meet for the first time since facing off at the 2015 Eddie Herr International Tennis Championships, where the American won in three sets.
"It's nice to have another junior player that I grew up with on tour," Andreescu said. "It's super nice, but that match was tough. I did lose, and was pretty pissed! I'm a different player, and so is she, so I'll expect the unexpected."
“I was looking forward to playing, but also quite nervous, because this is a tournament I love, and after playing well in the Middle East, I just wanted to keep the same energy and quality of tennis,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. “It was actually very windy out, so that made things tricky. Otherwise, I was just excited to play well for my first round; I was up against sort of an unknown opponent, so I was happy to make it through.”
The former world No. 1 won her first title of the season two weeks ago after previously finishing runner-up at the Gippsland Trophy and Qatar Total Open. Standing between Muguruza and the fourth round will be Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya, who pulled off a dramatic upset of No. 20 seed Petra Martic, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4) to enjoy a career-best run at a WTA-1000 event.
No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova an improbable third straight meeting with American nemesis Jessica Pegula when the 2019 Miami Open runner-up defeated Zheng Saisai, 6-2, 6-1. The former world No. 1 lost both of her Middle East encounters with Pegula, who has been on fire since reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals, and will undoubtedly be eager for revenge. For her part, Pegula appears game for the rematch, wasting little time to advance against Aussie Storm Sanders, 6-3, 6-4.