CHARLESTON, SC, USA -- In her first singles match of the week, Sloane Stephens kept Team Kindness in touching distance with a late-night victory, but Team Peace won three out of Friday's five clashes to hold the overnight lead at the Credit One Bank Invitational.
Danielle Collins triumphed in Friday's first evening match at the non-WTA exhibition event, defeating former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 7-5, to put her squad Team Peace up by six points on a day where each win earned the victor's team two points.
Stephens finished off the night with a hard-fought win over Eugenie Bouchard, 6-3, 7-6(7), earning Team Kindness a much-needed two points just before midnight.
Team Peace, though, goes into Saturday's encounters with a healthy 14-10 lead in the team event on the green clay courts of Daniel Island, home of the Volvo Car Open.
Nevertheless, the event is far from over, as each of the weekend matches will be worth a whopping three points for the victorious team.
2017 US Open champion Stephens needed to erase break deficits in each set before overcoming Bouchard in a battle of former Top 5 players. In the hour-and-a-quarter-long second set, Stephens was forced to fend off three set points in order to avoid a decisive match tiebreak.
Bouchard broke Stephens at love in the first game of the encounter, as strong hitting from the forehand wing led the Canadian to an early 3-1 lead. Stephens, though, gained her rhythm midway through the set and reached level footing with a break for 3-3. The American slammed a forehand winner to clinch a second break for 5-3, then won a fifth consecutive game to wrap up the first-set comeback.
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A series of breaks in the second set ended with Bouchard up 5-2, and the 2014 Wimbledon finalist was able to serve for the set at 5-3. In that 12-minute game, Bouchard staved off two break points before earning her first set point with a forehand winner down the line. However, Bouchard saw that chance and a second one disappear, and Stephens was able to grasp three more break points.
The American was unable to convert any of those, and after Bouchard finished off a grueling rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand winner, she claimed a third set point. That, too, was squandered after a netted unforced error, and Stephens at last converted her sixth break point of the game, pulling back on serve at 5-4.
Two more late breaks pushed the duo into a closely contested second-set tiebreak, where two match points for Stephens went begging before the American earned a third with an error-forcing forehand. The third time was the charm for Stephens, as she closed out the breaker 9-7 with a backhand winner down the line.
Collins and Azarenka had split their two meetings on the WTA coming into Friday's exhibition clash, and it was the American who barnstormed to a quick one-set lead in Charleston. Collins held at least one break point in all of Azarenka's service games in the first set, as she eased to a 6-1 advantage in less than half an hour.
2019 Australian Open semifinalist Collins broke Azarenka in the opening game of the second set to build her lead, and held on to that advantage up to 5-4 and a chance to serve for the match. However, Azarenka finally earned her first break points of the day in that game, and reached parity at 5-5 after a Collins backhand flew wide on the Belarusian's second chance.
Collins recovered, though, and used strong returning to reclaim her break lead in the very next game. At 6-5, a sturdy Collins serve forced an errant return from Azarenka, giving the American her first match point. There, a dropshot by Collins forced a long error from Azarenka's racquet, and the straight-set win went to the World No.51.
"It was a good match overall," Collins said in her on-court post-match interview, after giving Team Peace a commanding 14-8 lead. "I think I lost my serve a little bit there at the end, but I'm just getting used to playing matches again, and happy to pull off the W for the team.”
The teen queen reigns. 👑@AnisimovaAmanda defeats Dolehide, taking over in the match tiebreaker, and earning 2⃣ points for Team Kindness.@TennisChannel #CreditOneBankInvitationalpic.twitter.com/KvURRkTF6h— wta (@WTA) June 26, 2020
Earlier, in the first of Friday's afternoon matches, Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic ousted Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, 7-5, 6-2, improving Team Peace's overall lead to 10-6. Tomljanovic needed nearly an hour to eke out the hard-fought opening set, then eased through the second set to extend her squad's overnight lead.
In the second match of the day, though, Amanda Anisimova pulled Team Kindness back within two points after she fought past fellow American Caroline Dolehide, 5-7, 7-5, [10-2], saving match point in the process.
Anisimova served for the opening frame at 5-4, but Dolehide broke the teenager at love to level the set, then claimed two more games in succession to snatch the one-set lead after an hour of play.
Dolehide then held match point at 5-4 in the second set, but 18-year-old Anisimova escaped that game to hold for 5-5. The 2019 Roland Garros semifinalist turned on the heat from that point forward, cruising through the remainder of the set and dominating the decisive match tiebreak. All told, Anisimova won 25 of the last 28 points of the match.
“I just tried to relax in the second set, and just be more consistent," Anisimova said on-court after her win, which pulled Team Kindness closer overall, down just 10-8 to Team Peace. "That’s why I missed being out here, just trying to face challenges and get yourself back together mentally as quick as possible. I think that was a great opportunity for me today to work on.”
However, the following doubles match went Team Peace's way, as Jennifer Brady and Emma Navarro powered past Alison Riske and Shelby Rogers, 6-2, 6-3, in an all-American affair.
Brady and Navarro needed just an hour and a quarter to clinch the straight-set victory and put Team Peace up 12-8 going into the evening's singles matches.