McCartney Kessler Finding Validation, Confidence In Her Game At Charleston 125

McCartney Kessler (photo: Fifth Third Charleston 125)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, March 13, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

After earning her first WTA Tour main draw win at the Australian Open at the start of the year and first WTA tournament title last month at the WTA 125 Puerto Vallarta Open in Mexico, American McCartney Kessler achieved a career-high ranking of No. 120.

Pretty good results when you consider that Kessler made her ITF debut in 2016 at age 17, reached her first ITF final in 2021, and lifted her first ITF title last year at Rome, Ga. Last year, Kessler played her first tour-level matches as a wild card at the US Open, where she won two qualifying matches before falling in the third and missed making the main draw.

Fast forward to this month, where an abrupt 6-3, 7-6 (3) first-round loss to Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz, ranked No. 129, last week at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., left Kessler with some time to fill in her tennis calendar. So, the Calhoun, Ga. native, who played collegiately at the University of Florida, decided to take a chance and come to South Carolina and try to qualify for this week’s Fifth Third Charleston 125 outdoor hard-court event at LTP Mount Pleasant, which began Sunday and continues through Saturday.

“I was not sure if I was even going to get into this tournament,” said Kessler, who is currently ranked 123rd. “So, I came and signed in as an alternate.”

Quickly, Kessler found herself in the 16-player qualifying draw and strung together a pair of straight-set wins, over No. 110 Darja Semenistaja of Latvia on Sunday and No. 120 Mai Hontama of Japan on Monday, to reach the 32-player main draw against fifth seed Lin Zhu of China.

I was happy to come in and get some matches,” the 24-year-old Kessler said. “I’m happy with today’s result.”

McCartney Kessler

McCartney Kessler (photo: Fifth Third Charleston 125)

On Tuesday, Kessler needed two hours and 25 minutes – longest match of the day – but emerged with a satisfying 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over the 62nd-ranked Zhu that improved her 2024 win-loss record in all competitions to 16-4. Kessler hit three aces, won 54 percent of her first-serve points and saved five of 12 break points she faced from Zhu. She converted seven of 16 break-point opportunities and outpointed her opponent 102-101.

“I feel like I belong there but getting the high-ranked win helps me know that I belong there,” said Kessler, who will face No. 95 Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia in Wednesday’s second round. “It’ll help me moving forward as well. … The higher the ranked win, the more I feel validated and confident.”

Seeds Cocciaretto, Wang, Shnaider, Hibino advance

No. 4 seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy, No. 6 seed Yafan Wang of China, No. 7 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia and No. 9 seed Nao Hibino of Japan were among 10 players who won their opening-round matches Tuesday to advance to Wednesday’s second round.

Elisabetta Cocciaretto

Elisabetta Cocciaretto (photo: Fifth Third Charleston 125)

The 60th-ranked Cocciaretto defeated No. 104 Arina Rodionova of Australia, 6-3, 6-2, in an hour and 41 minutes. She converted four of seven break points and outpointed Rodionova 75-59. Next, Cocciaretto will face 107th-ranked qualifier Marina Bassols Ribera of Spain, who eased past No. 103 Alizé Cornet of France, 7-5, 6-1, in one hour and 47 minutes, taking advantage of eight breaks of serve.

No. 66 Wang earned a straight-set win over 120th-ranked lucky loser Mai Hontama of Japan, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in two hours and eight minutes. Wang won 67 percent of her second-serve return points and outpointed Hontama 86-84. Next, she will play No. 100 Sara Errani of Italy, who upset No. 89 Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium, 6-3, 6-2, in 73 minutes. It was Wickmayer’s fifth straight main-draw loss of the season.

Also, the 74th-ranked Shnaider, a title winner earlier this season at Hua Hin, Thailand, defeated 392nd-ranked wild card Dalayna Hewitt of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, in 77 minutes, outpointing the LTP Academy athlete 67-55. Next, Shnaider will play No. 82 Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, who advanced over 77th-ranked Australian qualifier Olivia Gadecki, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in an hour and 50 minutes.

Nao Hibino

Nao Hibino (photo: Fifth Third Charleston 125)

Meanwhile, the 80th-ranked Hibino rallied to beat No. 90 Harriet Dart of Great Britain, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. She outpointed the Briton 96-87 during the two-hour match. Next, Hibino will oppose 98th-ranked Russian qualifier Erika Andreeva, who eliminated No. 93 Clara Tauson of Denmark, 6-3, 6-0, by saving both break points she faced while converting four of nine break-point opportunities. She outpointed Tauson 60-33.

Finally, No. 85 Oceane Dodin of France advanced with a 63-minute 6-3, 6-2 win over 343rd-ranked American wild card Madison Sieg, in back of four aces and five break-points converted. Dodin outpointed Sieg 64-42 and next will face No. 3 seed Martina Trevisan of Italy, ranked 59th.

Eight second-round singles and four first-round doubles matches dot the Wednesday order of play.

Tuesday’s Fifth Third Charleston 125 results

Wednesday’s Fifth Third Charleston 125 order of play