Daniel Island, April 7, 2016 — Half the seeded players at Volvo Car Open are out, which isn’t abnormal for a draw this size. But yesterday’s exodus of top seeds resembled a revolving door. Fans could do nothing but watch as their favorites departed.
Madison Keys – American sweetheart, No. 8 seed, 2015 finalist.
Belinda Bencic – Swiss teen favorite, No. 2 seed, 2014 qualifier and surprise semifinalist. Andrea Petkovic – Fun-loving ‘Petko,’ No. 6 seed, 2014 champion.
Lucie Safarova – Miami doubles champ, No. 4 seed, 2012 finalist.
Eugenie Bouchard – Enigmatic Canadian fighting to regain lost luster from 2014, No. 17 seed, 2014 semifinalist.
After all was said and done Wednesday, Bouchard’s simple reflection probably summed up the feelings from all of the above … “It sucks.”
Today, therefore, eyes were on three remaining players: Angelique Kerber, the top seed and defending champion; Venus Williams, the 2004 champion and 7-time Grand Slam champion and mother commander of all things tennis; plus, Samantha Stosur, the 2010 Volvo Open Champion who remarked earlier this week that her title match was “the best match I’ve ever played.”
By the end of the afternoon, only one of the three remained: Kerber. Venus lost a heartbreaker; and, Stosur succumbed to the inability to save break points, going out to Sara Errani, 6-4 7-6(5).
Kerber was first up on stadium court. She defeated qualifier Kristina Kucova, 6-2 6-3.
“I think the first matches are always tough to play on clay,” Kerber said. “Today was my second. I was feeling better, like with my movement and trying to hit the balls instead of pushing it, which I did in my first match. I’m feeling the court. It’s just a great feeling like I had last year.”
Kerber’s confidence grows with each win. But to wrack up wins on clay could mean that her year will go well, as it did in 2015. She went on to win Stuttgart immediately following Charleston, then Birmingham on grass, and Stanford on hard. She became the first player since 2007 to win WTA titles on green clay, red clay, grass and hard in the same year. To top that off, she became a Grand Slam Champion when she won the 2016 Australian Open.
“I had great memories from last year where I won here,” she began. “I won my first Grand Slam in Melbourne and, of course, I have a lot more confidence than when I came here last year. When I walk in here, the people are recognizing me much more than last year. It feels good. The people are so nice.”
The scoreline looks as if the win was straight forward. It wasn’t. With wind whipping and swirling, games were tough to close out for both players and breaks of serve were frequent. But Kerber saved 8 of 11 break points and won 58% of points on first serves … good enough to propel her to the quarterfinals tomorrow.
Venus Williams, No. 3 seed, was not as lucky as Kerber.
“She played really well, you know, and I think sometimes it just comes down to luck,” Williams told the press after her three set, three hour match against Yulia Putinseva, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4. “There’s no easy match. I tried to continue to play aggressive, but just wasn’t in the cards today.”
Williams, the oldest player in the draw at 35, came to her post-match press conference immediately. There were only a handful of questions asked and disappointment hung in the air. No one wanted to see her go. She’s Venus.
“I tried,” she said. “She always seemed to have an answer. And, you know, a lot of shots were just too tough. So … what can you do.”
Putinseva is a bundle of sass and spit. She argues with chair umpires but never wins. She throws her racquet and screams at her box. She’s comparatively short at five-foot-four, so she relies on and executes with a good deal of perfection shots that send base-line huggers into scramble mode … drop shots followed by lobs. Venus just gave up on a few of those combinations. Like she said … “what can you do.”
‘Poots,’ as she’s endearingly tagged on Twitter, had never beaten Venus in their three prior meetings: Montreal in 2014; Wimbledon in 2015; Kaohsiung Taiwan in 2016. Today, though, she stood her ground and refused to crumble from emotional outbursts and interruptions in momentum.
Fourteen years younger than Venus, Putinseva won more points on her second serve and off Venus’s second serve. But the match was a close one with Putinseva winning 114 points of the match while Venus earned 115 points. Again … what can you do.
Putinseva’s has yet to earn a WTA title. But her ascension in the rankings points to positive outcomes; she had to qualify for tournaments last spring but no more. She’s one of the new faces and shares that spotlight with another winner from today, 18-year-old Daria Kasatkina. She defeated American Wildcard Louisa Chirico, 6-0 6-4, to advance to her first quarterfinal in Charleston. Kasatkina’s win puts her ever-so-close to being seeded at Roland Garros, a dream come true for the 2014 Junior Roland Garros champ.
“Since 2014 I changed my place for practicing,” Kasatkina said. “Now I’m practicing in Slovakia with new coach. It means a lot for me because we change a lot of things. I start to work really hard, which has helped me a lot. If you want to reach some goals you have to be on the level. So I have to work harder and harder.”
As far as changes in Kasatkina’s game, the list is long. “We changed my serve. We changed my backhand. And, I’m trying to play more aggressive because otherwise they will kill me on the high level.”
You can bet that Angelique Kerber isn’t making drastic changes to her game, at this point in her career and at 28 years old. And, if both women advance tomorrow they’ll face each other in one of the Volvo Car Open‘s semifinals.