2021 WTA Charleston, Day 1 & 2 Highlights: Yay for the green clay!

Hello there, Charleston! The iconic green clay courts of Charleston are supporting a stellar line-up at this year’s Volvo Car Open. This is one of the better line-ups that I can remember with nine of the world’s top 20. Charleston is always one of my favourite tournaments of the year and the players seem to love it too. I have especially been looking forward to the 2021 edition after last year was cancelled. No fans sadly but still should be a great week. Read on for my Monday-Tuesday combined diary with highlights from first round matches.

Day 1️⃣ and 2️⃣ Highlights

(13) Amanda Anisimova d. Magda Linette, 5-7 6-2 6-3 (Monday)

Anisimova and Linette are both trying to find their way on a tennis court in 2021. Linette played her first tournament of the year in Miami after having surgery on her knee, while Anisimova’s Oz campaign was curtailed by COVID. Up against a player she had lost to in their only previous meeting at Wimbledon in 2019, Anisimova overcame an error-strewn start to win in three sets.

Anisimova lost four of her first six service games, but then won eight of her last nine. The only break in that run was a peak Linette return game where her forehand, the star of the show in the first set, was on fire. The serve helped Anisimova to gain the upper hand in rallies and generally eradicate some of the wild errors from the first set. Anisimova also had more of a say on return – she said in her post-match interview that she felt she was missing too many returns in Miami and had been working on them on the practice courts.

Not entirely sold on Anisimova yet this year. I thought her movement and footwork looked a little suspect in the first set but I liked how she rallied in the second and third sets. I think Anisimova needs matches so pleased to see her competing in Charleston. In the second round, Anisimova will be attempting to win back-to-back matches for the first time in 2021.

(11) Yulia Putintseva d. Harriet Dart, 7-6(8) 6-4 (Monday)

For most of Monday we were anticipating Putintseva to play Andrea Petkovic in the first round. Unfortunately Petkovic was forced to pull out of Charleston (😥) with a back injury at short notice and lucky loser, Harriet Dart stepped in. Dart was actually a break up in both sets, even having a set point in the lengthy opener. Dart acquitted herself quite well to Putintseva’s mix of spins, heights and drop shots. In the end, Putintseva’s experience and general assuredness on the clay won through.

Putintseva needed eight set points to win the opening set on the tiebreak. Just a few lapses from Dart in the tiebreak with two double faults and a couple of rushed returns. Currently ranked at #149 in the world, I feel Dart would not be out of place in the top 100. She’s got a great attitude and I hope she can get into more WTA main draw events. My favourite moment of watching the first set was Poots repeatedly thwacking one of the service lines and then stamping on it after it produced another bad bounce 😂.

Putintseva is already into the third round after winning her second round match on Tuesday against Zarina Diyas, 6-2 6-2.

Marie Bouzkova d. Timea Babos, 6-2 7-5 (Monday)

Bouzkova fought back from a 0-4 deficit in the second set and needed five match points to close out an exhausting final game. It was a performance that typified Bouzkova’s spirit, constantly battling to get one more ball back in play. Babos was no doubt the bigger hitter but she kept going soooo close to the lines. Perhaps it was because Bouzkova was tracking down so many balls that it made Babos go for more? I would have liked to see Babos rein in her margins. Babos was vulnerable on serve with 10 double faults. Bouzkova took quite a few swipes at the second serve.

Bouzkova is low-key one to watch for the clay. I feel I am somewhat biased because I really warm to Bouzkova! The Czech player reached the final at the Phillip Island Trophy in February and the semi-finals in Guadalajara last month. I think the best is still yet to come.

Sloane Stephens d. Wang Xinyu, 6-2 6-4 (Tuesday)

This was a very encouraging performance from Stephens. For the most part, Stephens served well, committed few unforced errors and played patiently, forcing Wang to go for too much in the rallies. Wang did have a late surge, cutting the deficit from 2-5 to 4-5 in the second set. Stephens held her ground in a testing final game, closing out the match on her fourth match point.

Leylah Fernandez d. (16) Zhang Shuai, 6-3 6-1 (Tuesday)

This was an upset by seeding. However, Fernandez was actually the clear favourite to win this match and prevailed rather comfortably, winning nine of the last 11 games.

Fernandez’s drop shots were a delight and I think all but one were successful. The match was finely poised at 3-2 in the first set and Fernandez had the guts to play a drop shot down break point. Fernandez’s forehand a good day. There were a few serving yips with the ball toss but it didn’t define her service games and when she did land a meaningful serve in play, she was very effective with the one-two punch.

Zhang showed signs of finding some rhythm midway through the first set. Those signs were sadly short-lived. This was Zhang’s fifth straight sets loss in a row and she looked worryingly off-the-pace. Hope everything is OK! In this wide-open Charleston draw, Fernandez is certainly one to watch.

Best point  🎾

Sloane’s break point save when trying to serve out the match at the second attempt 👏.

Funny moment 🤣

Said moment discussed above.

Favourite snap 📸

Go Carla! 🤗

Recommended media 📺

This was a fun interview with Putintseva. She even talked about the mice in hotel quarantine 🙊.

Recommended reading 📚

The best bits from pre-tournament press by Diane Elayne Dees on the Women Who Serve site.

Recommended listening 🎧

Delighted to be on this week’s Tennis with an Accent podcast. I spoke to Saqib about some of the talking points from Miami and briefly looked ahead to the clay court season.

Day 3 watchlist 📺

(8) Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens: A match of former Charlie champs and BFFs. Both still trying to find their games in 2021. Stephens leads the H2H, 3-1 but Keys did win their last match-up in Charleston two years ago. If Madison is going to find her form anywhere then it’s going to be in Charleston.

(13) Amanda Anisimova vs. Shelby Rogers: Like both players, fancy Shelby at home on the green clay.

(7) Elise Mertens vs. Alizé Cornet: Wondering how Mertens’s shoulder is. If no problems then would expect Mertens to be too consistent for Cornet.

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