Ana Konjuh continued to play her way back into form with a 6-4, 6-2 win against No.18 seed Madison Keys on Thursday at the Miami Open.
It was Konjuh's first win against Top 20 player since beating Dominika Cibulkova in the third round of Wimbledon 2017 and marked the first time she had won back-to-back WTA main draw-matches since Stanford in 2017.
Since that summer, Konjuh has been largely sidelined due to recurring pain in her elbow, on which she has now had four surgeries - the most recent an ulnar ligament reconstruction in 2019. But since returning to action last September, the elbow has held up and now the 23-year-old is recapturing some of her best form.
Konjuh leveraged her down-the-line backhand to win the battle of pace while also showing off more dimensions to her game. An exquisite dropshot helped stave off triple break-back point at 4-2 in the second set - a hold that effectively ended Keys' resistance. Konjuh converted all five of the break points.
"I was excited to see what her game is like," Konjuh said afterward. "I knew she was a big hitter, so I knew one of us had to make more mistakes today, and I'm thankful it wasn't me and I kept my level. I knew if I put a couple of balls back in the court she was gonna do something else."
Elsewhere, No.5 seed Elina Svitolina was at her most tenacious in essaying an unlikely turnaround to defeat Shelby Rogers 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 29 minutes. After 47 minutes, the Ukrainian was down a set to an in-form opponent who has posted five Top 20 wins since last August, having dropped five straight games as Rogers pounded 15 winners past her.
Svitolina was also struggling with a wrist injury, for which she took a medical timeout after the first set, and gusty conditions in which she was unable to find consistency. Twice at the start of the second set, the 2018 WTA Finals champion went down a break as she sought to find her timing.
"After the treatment, the tape, it was a bit better," Svitolina said. "But I'll have to see, take my time. It's good that I'm not playing tomorrow, so it's extra day for recovery."
Gradually, Svitolina clawed her way back. A determination to stay aggressive helped. She finished with 35 winners, one more than her opponent, and struck nine aces.
Rogers, by contrast, was increasingly wayward. Both the second and third sets opened with exchanges of breaks, passages of play that Svitolina emerged on top of before stabilising her game. Rogers was left playing catch-up, and was ultimately unable to do so.
Having pegged Svitolina back from 3-5 to 5-5 in the second set, Rogers, the World No.52, handed it over in the end, following her first double fault of the match with a volley that sailed out of bounds. Valiant play from Rogers staved off two match points down 2-5 in the third set, but Svitolina made no mistake a game later on her own serve, firing a forehand winner down the line to set up a third-round tilt against No.30 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.
"It was not perfect performance," Svitolina said. "But in the end I was trying to fight, trying to really put aside all the distractions that I had. And it was also a bit windy, and I'm happy that I dealt with that and got a win."
Svitolina accepted what she could control and playing around what she could not.
"You get back to your routines," she said. "You get back to what you can control. Like the wind is a factor that you cannot control, so you just have to really put it aside and try to play with it in a smart way, try to adjust your feet, try to adjust your shots. If the opponent is playing really well, you cannot control that so you have to accept and try to play around that."
Svitolina's footwork was also key.
"For me it's important always to adjust my feet really quick," Svitolina said. "I try to really put my attention on that, because the ball comes really deep and quick on my side, so I have to be ready, balanced with my shots. So that's just the reactions. I think that's what's important in my game."
Alexandrova was one of three seeds who wrapped up her early-afternoon openers in straight sets. The Russian dismissed Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska 6-0, 6-4 in just 1 hour and 10 minutes. Not far behind her was No.11 seed Belinda Bencic, who needed 1 hour and 14 minutes to move past Zarina Diyas 6-2, 6-1.
No.17 seed Johanna Konta, returning to action for the first time since losing to Rogers in the second round of the Phillip Island Trophy a month ago, was solid on the biggest points in holding off Magda Linette 6-4, 7-5. A serve-dominated affair saw the Briton nab the only break of the first set in its penultimate game before saving two break points to serve it out. Despite being pegged back from an early break in the second set, Konta again proved stronger at its climax, racing through the last eight points to post her second win of 2021.
"I think today was one of those matches where it wasn't necessarily going to be pretty. It was very blustery out there. It was quite windy," Konta said after the match.
"It was quite tricky to serve, return, within points. I think what I did was adapt well to that. I tried to still look for my opportunities to be able to move the ball around, to be able to put her on the run, and I thought I did that quite well.
"I thought I just adapted well to the conditions. I still managed to serve well. Probably would have wanted to maybe hit a few more returns in, but I think under the conditions I was quite pleased."