World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty triumphantly returned to the slag on Wednesday when she defeated Misaki Doi, 6-2, 6-1, for a place in the round of 16 at the Volvo Car Open.
Barty’s previous match on clay was pretty big – the 2019 Roland Garros final, where she beat Market Vondrous in straight sets to earn her first Grand Slam title of her career.
Last week’s Miami Open champion continued exactly where she left off as she crossed from the spring hard field to the ground, following No.77 Doi with relatively little trouble after just over an hour of play.
“I had to use that as an opportunity to try to create comfort,” Barty said, after the win. “I think it was important a few days between Miami and playing this first match, to rest my body, but also to try to prepare for a change of surface. It was a very quick turnaround, but tonight I felt great.”
“I was still hitting the clay in the middle [last] year, to try to maintain a certain consistency in the way the schedule would normally run, ”Barty added.
With her record of wins and losses in the season now 15-2, top seed Barty leveled her score from the only second time she played the Charleston main draw, when she reached the quarterfinals in 2018 before losing to Anastasia Sevastova . Barty was also a qualified loser at the 2013 event.
Against Doi, Barty took the lead early, forcing the problem with a fierce forehand as she scored an early break at 4-2. All in all, the No.1 seed went through the opening frame, turning in the last four games to establish a one-set lead.
Doi quickly broke Barty in the first game of the second set, but it was truly Aussie’s wrong move as she once again set out to win the game.
A series of hot punches, culminating in an astonishing crosshand forehand winner, allowed Barty to return immediately, and she continued with six games in a row to accompany the win. Overall, Barty finished the match with 23 winners, up to Doi’s six.
The all-American relationship of the two former Charleston champions followed Barty to Althea Gibson Court, and 2016 champion Sloane Stephens defeated her good friend and 2019 champion Madison Keys, 6-4, 6-4, to reserve a spot in the sweet sixteen.
In the rematch of the 2017 US Open final, Stephens improved her mutual record against 8th seed Keys to 4-1 after a 92-minute win filled with stunning rallies on the ground floor.
After starting the season with 0: 4, Stephens picked up back-to-back wins for the first time in 2021 here in Charleston. Stephens, who beat the Keys in that U.S. Open final four years ago, saved all three break points she faced on her way to victory.
Stephens held multiple break points in three of Keys ’first five service games, and the 8th-place holder defended well from the first six she encountered. Stephens finally took the opportunity to move forward, reversing his third break ball in a 4-4 game after Key’s backhand flew for a long time.
Serving for the lead in one set, Stephens had to clear the break break before finally closing the box with a deft lob winner.
Stephens took control of the second set early, breaking through to a 2-1 lead. The former third-world player had to go through a long game to keep the lead at 4-3, but Stephens forced mistakes with solid shots and served to stay ahead.
At 5-4, Keys stopped two match balls with strong forehands, but Stephens made a charm for the third time as Keys’ backhand flew for a long time.
Stephens will now take Ajla Tomljanović for a place in the quarterfinals. The American leads the clash with a 5-0 lead against Tomljanović.
More to follow …