Miami Open 2016: Serena Williams hits 750 as Watson battles to Halep showdown

Serena Williams and Heather Watson are both through to the fourth round of the Miami Open

Marianne Bevis
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The conditions for playing tennis as the Miami Open headed into Easter weekend at Crandon Park were as brutal as only Key Biscayne can be: Into the 30Cs by mid-morning and with the humidity rocketing upwards.

Ice collars, fans and sunshades were therefore at the ready, for amid the kind of packed schedule that only two 96-player draws can produce, there are often casualties.

Those casualties when they came, however, were almost entirely in the men’s draw. Roger Federer departed with a virus before he had started, Juan Martin del Potro was hit by wrist problems—along with Aljaz Bedene—and No30 seed Thomaz Bellucci retired after falling foul of the conditions. What’s more, the likes of Sam Querrey, Marcos Baghdatis and Taylor Fritz all looked on their last legs as they headed to defeats.

The most high profile retirement was Rafael Nadal, who became so sick and dizzy at the end of the second set that he had to throw in the towel for the first time in over six years. And when one of the most robust and experienced players on the tour is overcome by illness—the conditions perhaps exacerbated by the ‘Federer’ virus—there is no doubting things are tough.

Yet not one of the eight women’s singles matches on the schedule was terminated by illness or injury: An noteworthy result given the extensive debate on and off court, last week and this, about the drawing power of women compared with men, and their ability to play best-of-five-set matches.

Take Briton Heather Watson. She played tall Belgian Yanina Wickmayer for over two and a half hours in a match marked by multiple breaks on both sides.

The higher-ranked Wickmayer eventually held to seal the first set, 6-3, but Watson got the early advantage in the second set. Wickmayer levelled at 3-3, and the two women ground their way to 5-5, when a feisty Watson survived two break points and three deuces to hold, and broke the Belgian for the set, 7-5.

Now both appealed to the umpire for time to change their saturated clothes—though they were quickly back. Watson again dug deep to hold off multiple deuces and break points in the fifth game, and eventually got the key break with a flying forehand winner in the eighth. The set and match were hers, 6-3.

Watson returns tomorrow to play the equally feisty No5 seed Simona Halep, who had an easier time in beating Julia Goerges in straight sets in an hour and a half.

Then take the titanic battle between No12 seed Elina Svitolina and No23 Caroline Wozniacki, two and three quarter hours that went the distance in a final tie-breaker, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(1).

Svitolina will next play Ekaterina Makarova, who put out No8 seed Petra Kvitova. 6-4, 6-4, after going 1-4 down in the first set but ended the match with just nine unforced errors.

Look, then, at Timea Bacsinszky, who took out No16 seed Ana Ivanovic in a gruelling hour and 40 minutes, 7-5, 6-4, to set up a contest with the current world No2 and former champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

The slender Pole has been devastating in Miami, dropping only one game in her first match and taking just 73 minutes to beat Madison Brengle, 6-3, 6-2.

Her comment afterwards, despite the speed of her match, surely summed up what everyone felt on sweltering Saturday: “One second after the match point, all I’m thinking is: the ice bath!”

Finally, though, salute the two women at the top of the draw, both former champions, both in their 30s, both now on course for their 11th meeting in 12 years.

The 2006 champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, had already played one three-setter to beat Carina Witthoeft in her first match, and then came back from a set down to beat Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) after two and a half hours. As for Garcia, she had previously survived two three-setters, with her second-round match against Andrea Petkovic lasting two hours 50 minutes, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-2(2).

Kuznetsova, though, now has to play the three-time defending champion, eight-time champion overall, Serena Williams, who beat her here last year.

Williams, age 34, had to battle through three sets in her opener, and the scoreline in her third-round 7-5, 6-3 win over Zarina Diyas did not do credit to the one and a half hour of intensity needed to reach the fourth round.

Williams came under heavy pressure early on but survived to take a 4-0 lead in the second before Diyas fought back. Williams, though, who has not lost in her home-town tournament since 2012, found some stunning return-of-serve winners to stem the flow. She finally sealed a place in her 15th Miami Open fourth round with her 75th match-win on the Keys and a milestone 750th career match-win.

It’s a record that takes Williams to within three matches of Lindsay Davenport at sixth on the all-time list of match-wins, though that makes the achievement of Martina Navratilova, with 1,442 match-wins, all the more staggering.

And as a final footnote, the record for match-wins on the men’s tour is held by Jimmy Connors: 1,257.

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