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March 8 - 21, 2021

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Stephens Out, Grand Slam Slayer Kasatkina In

Kasatkina win

by Melissa Isaacson

Looking forward to a consolation double-cheeseburger after her exit from the BNP Paribas Open in the third round on Monday, Sloane Stephens could take some solace in one other thing.

In defeating Stephens, the US Open champion and No. 13 seed, 6-4, 6-3, No. 20 Daria Kasatkina has now achieved the Grand Slam of upsets — beating the reigning title-holders of all four majors in the last seven months.

Kasatkina defeated French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko at the US Open, Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki in St. Petersburg, and Wimbledon titlist Garbiñe Muguruza in Dubai. Her victory over Stephens also avenged defeat from match point up in their only previous meeting, a three-setter won by Stephens in Charleston in 2016.

“Obviously, not my best tennis today, but fortunately we get to play every single week,” Stephens said. “So, yeah, I’m not going to be too down about it. There’s always next week and the week after…That’s all I can take away from it.”

Caroline Wozniacki

Kasatkina next plays Wozniacki , who defeated 49th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

“I didn’t really feel comfortable out there today, said Wozniacki. “I didn’t really get my game going the way I wanted to…It just wasn’t my day. I was just really trying hard, and I was making a lot of unforced errors, as well. I didn’t really feel the ball off the racquet.”

The No. 2 seed came in on a high, however, having won her first Grand Slam with the 2018 Australian Open title to temporarily reclaim the No. 1 ranking for the first time in six years. She also reached the semifinals in Doha.

She can reclaim the top ranking if she wins the title here.

“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me at this point,” she said. “It will matter to me if I have the chance to finish the year as No. 1. But at this point, winning the Australian Open and getting the No. 1 ranking back at that point, that was extremely important to me and something that I’m very proud of.”

“Right now, that No. 1 ranking isn’t what’s on the forefront of my mind. It’s really just trying to win every match I’m playing and trying to win this tournament. That’s what’s in my head.”

Others advancing to the Round of 16 with Monday afternoon victories were No. 7 Caroline Garcia, who defeated Daria Gavrilova, 7-5, 6-4, No. 10 Angelique Kerber, who eliminated defending champ Elena Vesnina, 7-5, 6-2; American Danielle Collins, who prevailed over Russia’s Sofya Zhuk, 6-4, 6-4 and No. 27 Carla Suarez Navarro, who upset No. 4 Elina Svitolina, 7-5, 6-3.

Collins, 24, a two-time NCAA champion with victories here over Taylor Townsend and No. 15 Madison Keys, her first Top-20 win, defeated Zhuk in January at the 125K in Newport Beach. The two also train together in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’m obviously very familiar with her…and we have had a lot of great battles,” said Collins, who will next meet Suarez Navarro. “The biggest thing going into today is I knew her strengths and weaknesses. I tried not to play into her strengths too much. I knew I was going to have to fight for every point. She’s a really tough competitor and doesn’t give you any free opportunities. So I had to just keep my foot on the gas and play very smart the entire way through.”

A first-round loss in last year’s tournament helped prepare her this time around. “I know what to expect,” she said. “I’m more confident. I’m more familiar with the players. I’m just learning more and more, and I think that you can see that when I’m on the court.

“This year I’m so much more comfortable and I’m really embracing this environment, playing in front of a lot of people, being on a big stage. This is what we work so hard for.”

Caroline Garcia swing

Kerber started out strong, charging to a 4-0 lead, but Vesnina answered with five straight to make the first set interesting before the former World No. 1 took charge, beating Vesnina for the first time in their last three matches and likely knocking her out of the Top 40.

A 2017 that included the bulk of a 27-tournament title drought is becoming easier to forget as she advanced to the semis at the Australian Open and Doha, and semis at Dubai.

“I’m not looking at 2017 anymore,” Kerber said. “For me, the year is over and I learned a lot. I learned a lot of positive things also. And I think it makes me also a better person and better player. I’m just focusing on every single match and every single day.”

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