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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Venus Williams shines as sun returns to Miami Open

After two days of almost constant rain Williams' match on the 13,800 temporary stadium court kicked off a busy day as organisers scrambled to get back on schedule after rain washed away three of the first four sessions.

By: Reuters | Miami | Updated: March 22, 2019 7:44:19 am
Venus Williams Venus Williams of the United States serves against Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia (not pictured) in the first round of the Miami Open. (Source: AP)

Three-times Miami Open champion Venus Williams lit up centre court by easing past Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic 7-5 6-3 in the first round as the sun and fans returned to the tournament on Thursday. After two days of almost constant rain Williams’ match on the 13,800 temporary stadium court kicked off a busy day as organisers scrambled to get back on schedule after rain washed away three of the first four sessions.

A move from cramped quarters at Crandon Park on picturesque Key Biscayne to the wide open spaces provided by acres of parking lots that surround the tournament’s new home at Hard Rock Stadium aims to give the Miami Open a bright new future.

Finally some of that potential shone through as people filled the spacious fanzone, generating some badly needed buzz. Williams did her part to get the party rolling by overcoming a sluggish start to book her spot in the second round.

Trailing 5-4 in the opening set Williams stepped up a gear to sweep the next six games, breaking her opponent three times to claim the first set before jumping ahead 3-0 in the second to wake up a sleepy crowd. Playing in her first WTA premier event, Jakupovic, 27, provided Williams with some early resistance, taking advantage of the 38-year-old American’s misfiring serve.

But the former world number one, making a record 20th appearance at the Miami Open, did not panic, breaking Jakupovic with the help of a challenge call that brought a smile to her face to seize control. “She really plays the angles well and is definitely a real competitor,” said Williams summing up her 80th-ranked opponent. “I was just trying to get a feel for what her shot selection is like. That’s always really challenging as a new opponent.”

On an outside court, another tennis sibling, Mari Osaka, older sister of world number one Naomi, was not having the same success, falling 6-2 6-4 to American wildcard Whitney Osuigwe. Osaka, ranked 338, will now have to content herself with being a cheerleader for her top-seeded sister who received a first round bye and will open her account against Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, a 3-6 6-3 6-1 winner over American Sachia Vickery.

Teenager Andreescu pulls off great escape in Miami

Canadian teenage sensation Bianca Andreescu pulled off a Miami Open great escape by fighting back from a set and match point down to beat a dazed Irina-Camelia Begu 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2 in the first round on Thursday. The 18-year-old who stunned the tennis world last week by winning her first career title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells raised eyebrows again with a gritty and spirited comeback that underscored her status as a rising star.

“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory,” Andreescu told reporters. “I have gained a lot of experience from today, but hopefully I don’t have to actually be down match point to win matches. “Maybe I needed to almost lose to wake up. That’s obviously what happened today. I’m really grateful how I managed.

Only three women — Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka — have completed the ‘Sunshine Double’, winning both Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back, and Begu had looked ready to make sure Andreescu would not add her name to that list. With 28-year-old Romanian a set up and leading 5-1 in the second the Canadian appeared headed for an early exit before she fought back.

Fighting off a match point at 5-2, the teenager went on the attack by unleashing a barrage of drop shots and laser forehands to sweep five successive games from her crumbling opponent to force the second set into a tiebreak.

By then the damage had been done, with a distraught and flustered Begu meekly surrendering the tiebreak before she slumped into her chair and hid under a towel in an attempt to regain composure.

When the action resumed little had changed as the surging Andreescu opened the deciding set with a break and Begu never recovered as the ruthless teenager closed out the contest to book a second-round meeting with American Sofia Kenin.

The victory was a promising omen for 24th-ranked Andreescu who two weeks earlier beat Begu in a tough three-setter in the opening round at Indian Wells.

Andreescu may be the youngest Indian Wells champion since Serena Williams in 1999 and the first wildcard to win one of the biggest tennis tournaments outside of the four Grand Slams but shared the spotlight on Thursday with Cori Gauff.

The 15-year-old American also turned heads beating compatriot Catherine McNally 3-6 6-3 6-4 to claim her first WTA Tour level win and advance to the second round.

While both Andreescu and Gauff need three sets to advance, third-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova breezed into the third round with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Greece’s Maria Sakkari.

Three-times Miami Open champion Venus Williams was also in good form, lighting up centre court by easing past Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic 7-5 6-3 as both the sun and the fans returned to the tournament.

After two days of almost constant rain, Williams’ match on the 13,800-seat temporary stadium court kicked off a busy day as organisers scrambled to get back on schedule after rain washed out three of the first four sessions.

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