It was the first of two freebie days for tennis fans attending the qualifying rounds at the BNP Paribas Open, but Monday was anything but a giveaway for a star-studded group of women slugging it out for a spot in the main draw.
No less than six players who have reached a Grand Slam semifinal or better, including a former French Open champion and the 2009 BNP Paribas Open winner, ratcheted up the interest level.
Among those advancing to a final round of qualifying Tuesday were Vera Zvonareva, Roberta Vinci, Yanina Wickmayer and Andrea Petkovic, while Francesca Schiavone and Sabine Lisicki were eliminated.
Schiavone, who became the first Italian woman and the oldest woman in the Open era to win a Grand Slam title with her victory over Sam Stosur in the 2010 French Open final, lost 6-1 in the third to Jil Teichmann. Lisicki, whose epic fourth-round Wimbledon upset of Serena Williams in 2013 preceded an eventual straight-set loss to Marion Bartoli in the final, lost to American Sofia Kenin.
Defending champion Elena Vesnina said she was not particularly surprised at Monday’s big-name qualifying round.
“It means the level of women’s tennis is really high right now and everyone can beat anyone and everybody is working hard,” Vesnina said. “If you would see every girl in the Top 70 in the gym, you would think she’s Top 20 at least. It has been great to see this developing in women’s tennis.”
Among the winners on Monday was Zvonareva, who defeated Ana Ivanovic in the ’09 BNP Paribas Open final and also reached the final at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, as well as the semis of the Australian Open in ’09 and ’11. Zvonareva, now ranked 158th, married and became a mother to daughter Evelina in 2016.
Vinci, a five-time Grand Slam doubles champion, reached the US Open final in 2015 after becoming the oldest first-time Slam semifinalist in the Open Era at 32, shocking Williams to reach the final and stopping Serena’s assault on the calendar-year Grand Slam.
Wickmayer, now ranked 115th, was a 2009 US Open semifinalist, and Petkovic, ranked as high as No. 9 in 2011, reached the semis of the French Open in 2014 and is now at 106th after a series of injuries.
“Women’s tennis has just gotten so much stronger and everybody’s playing so well,” Petkovic said. “So if you have whatever problems that bring you down, if it’s physical or mental or spiritual or emotional, it’s really difficult to come back nowadays. It’s not as easy as it was six or seven years ago, even maybe three or four years ago. Everyone can play and it takes a while longer to get back to where you possibly belong.”
Petkovic defeated American Nicole Gibbs 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 Monday, and said it was all psychological after the first set.
“Nicole played an incredible first set and I just stayed calm and I didn’t lose my nerve and I managed to turn it around,” Petkovic said. “That’s something that last year, I got really nervous when I’d lose the first set and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a Top 10 player, I shouldn’t be losing first sets in qualifying.’ But everybody is playing well. It has nothing to do with my quality. It has to do with the quality of the other players.”
Others advancing to second-round qualifying included Americans Taylor Townsend, Madison Brengle, Kristie Ahn and Bernarda Pera.