Until Friday night, the biggest win in Sachia Vickery’s career came the first week of 2018, when she beat a player once ranked as high as No. 2 in the world.
But on Friday night in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, there were no qualifiers and there was no doubt for the 22-year-old from Hollywood, Fla.
“This is the most amazing night of my life,” said Vickery after registering the most stunning upset of the tournament thus far with her 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over No. 3-ranked and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muruguza.
“It just all went so quickly, and I was just really shocked and surprised. That’s the best way to describe it,” Vickery said after the first Top-10 win of her career. “I started out pretty nervous. Obviously, for me, I haven’t played matches on such a big court before. For her, it’s the norm, so in the first set it really took me a while to kind of find the ball and get over those nerves. But then in the second set, I let a few go, and started to get a lot of confidence and the crowd got behind me.”
Down a set and 0-3, love-40, Vickery bore down against a player known for her occasional inconsistency but as talented as any in the game, and simply beat her shot-for-shot, forcing a third set on her third set point.
In long, stunning rallies that stretched out over the two-hour, 12-minute match, Vickery, ranked a career-high No. 100, ripped crosscourt winners with regularity as Muguruza could do little else but watch.
“I think she has a great physical skill,” Muguruza said. “And I just think that when players with not a lot of experience play against top players, they are very motivated. They kind of always elevate their game. I think today was a little bit the case. She was getting a little bit more excited, and the key points went her way, and she was getting more into the match and, at the end, she had a lot more confidence.”
It was at the ASB Classic in Auckland in early January that Vickery upset Agnieszka Radwanska — a former No. 2 (2012) then ranked 28th in the world — before falling to No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals in straight sets.
“I have honestly just put a lot of work in for the past few months, and I have made a lot of changes to my game,” said Vickery. “Everything is just kind of coming together. I have had so many matches in the past where I was just almost there, but I can never really just make that breakthrough. And I was just so close, just always losing it and losing it.”
With the win, Vickery moves on to play Naomi Osaka, who beat Radwanska on Friday, 6-3, 6-2.
“Like we always say, there are so many players that can be dangerous, that can be motivated and have a great day and face an opponent where maybe they don’t have a lot of pressure and play good,” Muguruza said. “And maybe the top player exits early. Maybe today was a little bit like that.”
“I got the rhythm back,” she said. “And I feel good now. I feel more confident.”
For Halep, two weeks in the relative tranquillity of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden could prove to be therapeutic after an agonizing three-set loss to Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open final, her second loss in a major final in nine months and third in her career.
Friday was her first match since she had to retire with the foot injury in the semifinal of her next tournament, mid-February’s Qatar Open.
“You never know if an injury is okay, if the injury is gone, if you don’t play a match,” Halep said. “Even if I played doubles [Thursday] didn’t mean that it’s okay until today when I played the full match. And I didn’t think about it, and no pain. So now I can say that it’s solved.”
Halep is one of five women since mid-May of 2017 to have held the top ranking. After losing to No. 47 Jelena Ostapenko in a three-set French Open final in which Halep led 3-0 in the third set, she had two more chances to get to No. 1, but lost in the Wimbledon quarters and the final in Cincinnati.
Still, Halep had been No. 1 for 15 weeks coming into the Australian Open until Wozniacki wrestled it back with the victory. Halep got it back again on Feb. 26.
On Friday, Halep trailed 3-1 before reeling off five of the next six games to win the first set, then relied on her steady groundstrokes in the second.
“I am always looking for perfection, but I have to be kind to myself,” she said. “I still want to be a fighter and be furious on the court, but when I hit the ball I have to be calm.”
For Vickery, she’ll have to calm down.
“Honestly,” she said, “probably when I wake up sometime tomorrow my coach will call me and say ‘You just beat Muguruza.’ And I’ll be like, ‘No way.’”