CHARLESTON, SC, USA -- Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and up-and-coming teenager Leylah Fernandez opened the Credit One Bank Invitational with sterling performances on a precipitation-marred Tuesday, as they picked up quick wins to inaugurate the non-WTA team event on Daniel Island.
Two matches were completed on the first day of the exhibition event before rain called off the rest of play just after 10:00 p.m, with the Madison Keys-captained Team Kindness and the Bethanie Mattek-Sands-helmed Team Peace deadlocked at one win apiece.
16 players have been split into the two teams, where they will compete in singles and doubles during the six-day event. Half of the proceeds will be donated to the Medical University of South Carolina, who will enforce and monitor health and safety protocols throughout the tournament.
World No.4 Kenin notched a 6-1, 6-1 victory for Team Peace over fellow American Alison Riske in the opening clash of the week on the fabled green clay courts of Charleston, as the winner of the year's only Grand Slam singles event thus far seeks to reclaim her fabulous early-season form.
“I knew I didn’t have a lot of match play after my last tournament, so I just tried to take my time and tried to play my aggressive game," Kenin said in her post-match on-court interview.
After a rain delay briefly held up the start of play, Kenin came out on a mission to kick off the event with a win. In the first game of the match, the 21-year-old earned a break point with a forehand passing winner, which was converted after World No.19 Riske netted a backhand. Kenin swifty went up a double-break, claiming a 3-0 lead after a bruising backhand winner.
Kenin reeled off four straight games before Riske was able to get on the board at 4-1, raising her arms in triumph. However, that would be the only game last year's Wimbledon quarterfinalist would clinch in the opening frame, as aggressive returning and more stellar backhands gave Kenin a third break and a 6-1 advantage after just over half a hour.
It was more of the same in the second set, as another passing winner gave Kenin the early break for 2-0. Riske notched her first service break of the match in the next game to get back on serve, but Kenin was unfazed, as the reigning Australian Open champion knocked off four games in succession to claim the straight-set victory in an hour and change.
Kenin said that, before the global sporting hiatus, "I felt like I was going on a roll," as evidenced by her stirring run to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne, followed by her second title of the season in Lyon.
"I just tried to focus on first staying healthy, and working on my game the best I can," Kenin stated, as she reviewed the last three months while professional tennis was on pause.
Team Peace's early lead was erased in the next match, as an all-teenage affair went the way of Team Kindness's Leylah Fernandez. The 17-year-old Canadian ousted 19-year-old Charleston resident Emma Navarro, 6-4, 6-0, in a rematch of last year's Roland Garros junior girls' singles final, also won by Fernandez.
“It’s our first match here in Charleston, and I’m super happy to be able to get the win for Team Kindness," said World No.118 Fernandez in her on-court post-match chat. "Hopefully, we’ll keep going this way."
Win her pro tennis match: ✔️— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) June 23, 2020
Finish high school: almost ✔️
Safe to say @leylahfernandez is a pretty good multitasker.
The Canadian had a successful first day at the #CreditOneBankInvitational. pic.twitter.com/CpA7CWxFI8
After an early exchange of breaks in the first two games, Fernandez claimed a crucial game at 2-2, firing a backhand winner to break for 3-2. Navarro held four break points in the following game to reach parity once more, but the Canadian fended off each of those chances before holding for 4-2 in a game that lasted over ten minutes.
Serving for the first set at 5-4, Fernandez survived another break point after a long service return by Navarro, then claimed the one-set lead at last by converting her third set point of the game.
The Canadian teenager started to cruise in the second set, using deft dropshots alongside furious forehands to race to a 4-0 lead. Navarro bravely saved three break points in the next game and held four chances to get on the scoreboard, but ultimately double faulted on Fernandez's fourth break point of the game, giving the Canadian a 5-0 lead.
Fernandez closed out the match in the following game with a forehand winner down the line, taking the win in an hour and a half.
"It was really hard in the beginning," stated Fernandez, who reached her first WTA singles final in Acapulco just before the tennis hiatus. "I knew it was going to be a very hard match. I was happy I pulled through the first set, and in the second set I just found my groove, and everything went in for me.”
In the third match of the day, Team Peace's Danielle Collins opened up a 4-1 lead on her fellow American Amanda Anisimova before thunderstorms moved through the area and interrupted the tilt for the night. The remainder of that match and the nightcap between Ajla Tomljanovic and Shelby Rogers were postponed to Wednesday.