Tennis

Venus avoids upset, while Pembroke Pines teenager nearly pulls off a stunner

Venus Williams returns a ball to Kiki Bertens at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Florida, March 25, 2018.
Venus Williams returns a ball to Kiki Bertens at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Florida, March 25, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Just when it looked like the Miami Open was about to lose another marquee name, seemingly-ageless 37-year-old Venus Williams kicked into another gear, fended off three match points and got past Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.

The match lasted three hours, and it was the warmest day of the tournament thus far, but Williams hung on to reach the fourth round, where she will play defending champion Johanna Konta of Great Britain.

One of the most compelling storylines of the day unfolded in the evening on Stadium Court, where 19-year-old qualifier Sofia “Sonya” Kenin of Pembroke Pines, ranked No. 94 in the world, nearly toppled ninth-ranked Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion.

Kenin won the first set, and battled until the end, but Kvitova prevailed 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Kenin was playing in her first Miami Open. She made headlines last fall when she reached the third round of the U.S. Open, winning $140,000, and decided to turn pro and decline a scholarship at the University of Miami.

“It was hard to play a player I didn’t know,” Kvitova said. “I remember when I was that age, playing with no fear, with nothing to lose. She was aggressive. She can get to a lot of balls, and was serving very well. She is not tall, but was getting her first serve in. She was reading the game very well.”

kenin(2)
Sofia Kenin returns a shot from Petra Kvitova, of the Czech Republic, during a tennis match at the Miami Open, Sun., March 25, 2018, in Key Biscayne, Fla. Wilfredo Lee AP

On the men’s side, Argentine fan favorite Juan Martin del Potro extended his winning streak to 13 matches by eliminating No. 26 Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-2. Del Potro is coming off his first Masters 1000 title last week at Indian Wells.

No. 2 Marin Cilic eliminated Vasek Pospisil 7-5, 7-6 (4). The only notable men’s upset was Jeremy Chardy of France beating No. 3 seed Grigor Dmitrov 6-4, 6-4.

“My body is starting to feel tight because all my success, but I’m enjoying a lot playing this tournament,” said del Potro, whose spirited fans show up in Argentina soccer jerseys. “I would like to stay longer because it’s a special tournament for me. Is the last time playing in Key Biscayne, so I would love to stay here few more days.’’

So would Williams, who made her debut here 21 years ago.

Williams breezed through the first five games to pull ahead 5-0, but then Bertens won seven consecutive games to take the first set. Williams fell behind again 4-1 and 5-3 in the final set, but never panicked. She won the big points down the stretch and held serve at love for the win.

She did a victory twirl at the net.

“It didn’t look good sometimes but that’s why you keep playing to the last point, and why I love this game,” Williams said on court after the match. “I felt everybody behind me. My opponent played well. I had a lot of chances; she had a lot of chances. I hope it was really entertaining for you all.”

Williams, the No. 8 seed, has won three titles on Key Biscayne, but none since 2001. Last year she reached the semifinal.

“I love it here,” Williams said. “This was my first big win. I have a lot of great memories. I hope I can get another win this year. You never know.”

Konta, the 11th seed, had little trouble beating Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-2 6-1.

“I have really great memories from last year,” said Konta in an on-court interview. “I want to thank everyone for coming out and making my return to the center court a special one.”

In other women’s matches, Ukrainian fourth seed Elina Svitolina rallied to beat Daria Gavrilova of Australia 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 and sixth seeded Jelena Ostapenko defeated Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 7-6(2). Miami’s Monica Puig, who won the 2016 Olympic gold medal for Puerto Rico, advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Maria Sakkari of Greece.

Del Potro’s return to the tour is remarkable considering the underwent four wrist surgeries between 2014 and 2016. He had to completely revamp his backhand, and said it is still a work in progress.

“I’m better, but I am still doing treatments two, three hours a day for my wrist before the practice, after match,” he said. “That takes me a lot of time every day. That’s what I have to do if I wants to keep playing tennis.

“But my backhand is still improving. I can mix it up with my slices, with my dropshots. I think it’s a good signal for the future. Hopefully I can hit even more with my two-handed backhands, because I like to hit in that way.”

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