Seeds continued to rack up victories at the Miami Open, with No.6 Karolina Pliskova, No.12 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.16 Elise Mertens, No.21 Elena Rybakina and No.29 Jessica Pegula all easing into the third round in straight sets.
Thursday had seen the seeded players in the top half go 13-2, with No.18 Madison Keys and No.31 Coco Gauff the only casualties (No.25 Alison Riske having withdrawn with a foot injury). The first five seeds up on Friday took that record to 18-2, with none taken beyond 6-4 in any set.
The in-form Muguruza, fresh off the Dubai title two weeks ago, extended her winning streak to seven and her season record to 19-4 with a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of wildcard Wang Xinyu. The Chinese teenager had taken a set from Muguruza in their only previous meeting, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the first round of Shenzhen last year, but the former World No.1 was focused from the off this time.
A cluster of backhand winners set Muguruza up to break for 2-1, and that wing served the Spaniard well as she maintained that lead for the rest of the first set. Wang showed flashes of effortless power to produce 11 winners overall, but her lack of consistency meant that she was unable to translate that into scoreboard pressure.
"When you play somebody that plays so aggressive, it's hard to do much," said an impressed Muguruza afterwards. "You have to wait for your opportunity. She played some incredible points. She also gave me some free points, so that helped me out to stay on the score."
Those free points racked up in the second set. Wang was unable to hold on to an initial break, and errors began cascading from the 19-year-old's racquet, eventually tallying 20. Muguruza, having asserted her dominance in the first set by going for her biggest shots, was able to coast to victory by remaining solid.
Elsewhere, Mertens overcame a slow start to defeat erstwhile junior rival Katie Boulter 6-4, 6-1. After 15 minutes, the Belgian faced a point to fall behind 0-4, but ground out that hold before going on a tear to win 12 of the last 14 games.
Gippsland Trophy champion Mertens' record in 2021 is now 12-2, and the intelligent, varied tennis she played against Boulter demonstrated why. Five aces and a fine balance of flat-hitting offence with speedy defence enabled her to dominate an increasingly error-strewn opponent.
"It was a tough start but she was playing well," said Mertens. "I wasn't playing aggressive enough, maybe too patient. But I turned it around pretty good. Serve was going better, more aggressive tennis as it should be."
Mertens had not faced Boulter since the pair's junior days in 2013-14 - when the Briton in fact led their head-to-head 2-1. Mertens remembers those times well, and was satisfied with how she had progressed since.
"I know her pretty well from juniors and I remember playing her at Wimbledon," she said. "We played every tournament together. It's definitely something special when you grow up with someone in juniors and ITFs then see each other on the WTA Tour. [But now] I'm more aggressive. It's definitely necessary in women's tennis to serve better, and also to step inside the court a little more. A positive evolution!"
Rybakina faced one of the toughest openers of any seed in this year's draw, notorious upset artist Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian already owns two Top 10 upsets this season alone, Aryna Sabalenka at the Gippsland Trophy and Sofia Kenin at the Australian Open, and had lost just nine games in total to Rybakina over two previous meetings.
Since the Tour resumption, Rybakina has not managed to recapture her dizzying form of early 2020, when she reached four finals in two months. The Kazakh came into Miami with just a 5-5 win-loss record in 2021, and twice went down a break in the first set as Kanepi pounded forehands past her.
But Rybakina showed grit to withstand the Estonian's baseline power. The 21-year-old turned the opener around by coming through two key four-deuce tussles: a hold for 3-4, and then a break to seal the set.
By this time, Rybakina's own groundstrokes were clicking - while Kanepi's serve was falling apart. The World No.64 coughed up seven double faults in total, and did not reach game point in the second set as Rybakina raced through the last 10 games in a row.
Like Mertens and Rybakina, Pliskova also went down a break at the start of her match against Zheng Saisai. The Czech was troubled even more briefly, though, winning 11 of the last 12 games to swat Zheng aside 6-2, 6-1. Pliskova finished with 27 winners to 12 unforced errors, with most of the latter coming in the first three games of the match.
Next up for Pliskova will be her Middle East nemesis Pegula, who blew past wildcard Storm Sanders 6-3, 6-4. The pair have already played twice in the past month, with the American winning 6-3, 6-1 in the Doha quarterfinals and 6-0, 6-2 in the Dubai third round.