Must-See Charleston Open Quarterfinals Lives Up To Its Hype

Jessica Pegula (photo: Charleston Tennis LLC)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 6, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

With a must-see quarterfinal line-up Friday at the Credit One Charleston Open in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the second match of the day between World No. 5 and top seed Jessica Pegula of the United States and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was a huge highlight.

In the sixth career meeting between the two stars, with the 12th seed Azarenka leading their head-to-head 3-2 – and with both seeking their first Charleston title – they gave the fans who filled Credit One Stadium a three-set fight to the finish, thanks to Azarenka clawing her way back from a set and 1-3 down to capture five consecutive games to level the match against Pegula.

Then, Pegula saved four match points in the final set, decided by a tie-break that favored her. In the end, there were tears of joy for Pegula and the combatants shared a warm embrace at the net. The final score favored Pegula, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7), in two hours and 36 minutes, which advanced her to her second straight Charleston semifinal and third semifinal of 2024.

“That was obviously a really crazy match, really, really crazy,” Pegula expressed in her news conference following her victory. “But yeah, I am excited that I was able to get through, kind of hold my nerve, barely, at the end there. But I was able to do it, and hopefully I can really use this match as a big confidence, kind of, builder and for momentum going forward and even for tomorrow.”

No easy victory for Kasatkina

Before Pegula and Azarenka took court, former champion Daria Kasatkina (2017) of Russia had all she could handle against 83rd-ranked Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, who reached the final eight after taking out a trio of Americans in qualifier Sachia Vickery, No. 8 seed Madison Keys and No. 10 seed Emma Navarro, in her first appearance in Charleston.

After splitting the first two sets, with Cristian winning the first in a tiebreaker and Kasatkina the second on the strength of breaking her opponent’s serve in consecutive service games, it came down to a one-set showdown. The 11th-ranked Russian broke Cristian for the ninth time in the match to push ahead 3-2, consolidated the break at love for 4-2 and broke for a 10th time – also at love – to put the finish line in focus.

Soon, after being broken serving for the quarterfinal win, Kasatkina put away the 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3 victory on her second match-point opportunity. She did it with a 10th-shot forehand smash winner that broke Cristian and ended the two-hour, 42-minute tussle.

There was no easy way to victory for Kasatkina, as the match stats bore out. She hit 30 winners but also made 38 unforced errors. Although she converted 10 of 20 break points against Cristian, her own serve was broken six times. Kasatkina outpointed her opponent 108-96.

“Coming to Charleston is always a special feeling … so much love,” Kasatkina said in her on-court interview.

Later, in her news conference, Kasatkina said: “It was a very, very tough match from the beginning to the end. We were both fighting for our lives today. Also, we showed a pretty good level of tennis, and, yeah, really happy with the effort I put today to come back after the tough loss of the first set and then be able to get better level also through the second and third set and just, yeah, really happy with my win today.”

Collins extends winning streak to 11

By the end of the afternoon, 22nd-ranked Danielle Collins of the United States, riding high on the strength of a 10-match winning streak – and winner of 20 of her last 21 sets – faced the always-tough No. 11 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium. By the end of the afternoon, Collins had recorded her 11th straight victory, 6-3, 6-4, in one hour and 23 minutes, and extended her stellar mark of winning sets to 22 of her last 23.

“Elise and I have had a couple of close matches previously. I think with her game and over the course of her career she’s proved that she can beat anybody on any given day,” Collins opined during her post-match news conference. “She can be really tricky. So, I knew that coming out I was going to have to hit some hard shots and try to push her around the court as much as I could. And, yeah, I went out swinging, went for some big target.

“The wind was a little bit tricky at times. Not easy. You have to make adjustments during these types of days. But I got off to a good start, and, yeah, I’m just thrilled to be keeping this streak alive.”

Sakkari takes out 2021 champ Kudermetova

Under the lights Friday evening, it was No. 3 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece battling against 2021 Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova of Russia — and advancing to meet Collins following a 93-minute 6-4, 6-2 victory. Sakkari has won six of her last seven clay-court quarterfinals.

“I thought it was a great match. I played really well, probably the best match I’ve played here,” Sakkari said in her post-match news conference. She hasn’t dropped a set in her three matches. Now, Sakkari through to her first Charleston semifinal.

“Obviously the more I play on clay, the more I get used to the surface, and just felt very confident today while I was playing, and yeah, I knew it was going to be tough, but I just trusted myself.”

Around the Credit One Charleston Open

Because of her double duty in playing two singles matches on Thursday, due to Wednesday’s rain, Sloane Stephens got a one-day reprieve from playing her doubles quarterfinal match, partnered with fellow American Ashlyn Krueger. On Friday, Stephens and Krueger were on Althea Gibson Court at noon against British pair Olivia Nicholls and Heather Watson — and won 6-7 (5), 6-2, 10-6, in an hour and 47 minutes to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. They will play Japan’s Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya.

Friday night, in the first doubles semifinal between No. 1 seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez of the United States and Ellen Perez of Australia against Ukrainian sisters Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiia Kichenok, after each team won a set in tie-break fashion, it came down to a match tie-break that was won by the Kichenoks 13-11.

Friday’s Credit One Charleston Open results

Saturday’s Credit One Charleston Open order of play 

By the numbers

• Friday was Victoria Azarenka‘s 20th career clay-court quarterfinal, and her first since Rome in 2020.

• This is the sixth-straight edition of the tournament that at least two Americans have reached the quarterfinal round.

Danielle Collins‘ 11-match winning streak is the second-longest of her career. She won 12 straight en route to back-to-back titles in 2021 at Palermo and San Jose.

“Quotable …”

“I’ve definitely paid a lot more attention since Caitlin Clark, so I’ve been following a lot more. I feel like I have been hearing it a lot more, and it seems like I truthfully have just heard a lot more about it than the men’s side, which I think is really cool.

“To see a woman changing the game and growing the sport is awesome. So, yeah, I’m definitely a big fan, and I’ve been following a lot more because of her. I’m not a super crazy fan, but obviously anyone – all the girl athletes that are playing, women athletes, it’s really fun to follow and see how they’re growing their sport.”

— Top seed Jessica Pegula, during her post-match news conference Thursday, describing she’s aware of the tremendous media and fan attention the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four has been drawing, thanks to University of Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark.