Back on the dirt, Ons Jabeur aims to kickstart her year into top gear. The World No.5 from Tunisia began her clay-court season with a 6-3, 6-3 win over 77th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine at the Credit One Charleston Open.
Victoria Azarenka also won an evening clash over Sloane Stephens to make the Round of 16. Here are some takeaways from Tuesday night at the WTA 500 event:
Back on track: Jabeur had to face adversity in the first quarter of 2023. After an early loss at the Australian Open, Jabeur had minor knee surgery and missed the entire Middle East swing.
Jabeur came back for the Sunshine Double but went 1-2 in Indian Wells and Miami combined. Jabeur held just a 4-4 win-loss record for the year coming into Charleston, where she had a first-round bye as the No.2 seed.
But this tournament has brought Jabeur positive results over the last two seasons -- she reached the final last year and the semifinals the year before that. Jabeur also reached the final of a WTA 250 event at the same site in 2021.
Jabeur could not ask for a much more beneficial environment to begin her clay swing, and with her 1-hour and 28-minute victory over Tsurenko, she now boasts a 13-3 win-loss record at this site over the last three years.
Shot selection: On the green clay of Charleston, Jabeur's crafty shots started early with an error-forcing tweener in the third game of the match:
Tsurenko, a former Top 30 player and 2017 US Open quarterfinalist, tumbled on the court early and took a medical time-out during the first set, but she did pull from 5-0 down to 5-3 before Jabeur at last closed out the one-set lead.
Tsurenko's slice backhands and accurate hitting kept her in the second set as well, but Jabeur's frequent drop shots and big serves at key moments helped her stay ahead on the way to victory.
Jabeur saved five of the seven break points she faced in the match, while converting five of her 13 break points. 22 winners for Jabeur, compared to just nine from Tsurenko, allowed the Tunisian to get her play on the clay off to a great start.
Azarenka advances: Lurking at the other side of the bottom quarter is former World No.1 Azarenka, who could be a potential quarterfinal opponent for Jabeur. No.6 seed Azarenka overcame 2016 champion Stephens 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday night.
In their first three meetings, Azarenka beat Stephens at three consecutive Australian Opens between 2013 and 2015, but Stephens won their next four matches. Azarenka turned the tide back in her favor in Charleston, prevailing in a hair over two hours and leveling their head-to-head at 4-4.
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is playing in Charleston for the first time since 2010. Seeking her first trip to the quarterfinals of the event, she will meet Anna Kalinskaya in the Round of 16, in their first meeting. Kalinskaya defeated Alize Cornet 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-2 earlier on Tuesday.