World No. 2 Ash Barty got off to a slow start in Cincinnati against former champion Maria Sharapova before kicking into gear and pulling away with a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
“I mean, it was certainly no panic sessions after last week,” said Barty who was down an early break. “I knew I was a little bit underdone going into Toronto and certainly had no worries or concerns there.
“I feel like I have been striking the ball really well over the last seven or eight days. I found my groove a little bit more… Then it was just going out there trying to execute playing against one of the best competitors of the world and making sure I had to be there present and ready for every single point.”
Barty will now face Anett Kontaveit who dispatched Polish teen Iga Swiatek.
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka picked up a 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-2 over Aliaksandra Sasnovich. It was her first career win in Cincinnati.
“I think I just wanted to carry on like the sort of happy laughing vibe from Toronto, but I think I was a bit too, like, giggly,” said Osaka. “There were some points I didn’t really have to laugh but I did, because it was either that or, like, get a little frustrated. So it was a bit hard kind of juggling that.
“Some of them I was laughing at my errors because it was so ridiculous, and then other times I was just laughing because, like, I was in a good mood.”
Osaka will now meet Su-Wei Hsieh.
“I never know what to expect with her,” Osaka said looking ahead. “That’s kind of the fun part, so I expect that I’ll laugh a lot because there are things that are out of my control.
“But, yeah, the last time I played her in Miami, I just remember being frustrated. I think everyone could see that. So I think the time after that in Germany I was just trying to be focused, and I won that match. I’ll just try to carry that on.”
Third-ranked and 2016 champ Karolina Pliskova kept pace in the No. 1 hunt beating Yafan Wang 6-1, 6-3.
Sloane Stephens edged the dangerous Yulia Putintseva 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“It’s been pretty inconsistent for me on the hard courts,” Stephens said in her post-match press conference. “I was just looking for a win and trying to fight through.”
Runner-up the last two years, Simona Halep also dropped the opening set before scratching out a tough 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 win over Ekaterina Alexandrova. The Russian had a break lead and two points from serving for it in the third.
I got the confidence game by game, even if she was leading me,” said Halep. “I still thought that there is a chance to win, and I have just to fight.”
Halep now takes on Madison Keys who ousted Daria Kasatkina.
Elina Svitolina, Donna Vekic and Sofia Kenin also advanced.
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