Last Updated: 25/03/19 12:30pm
Defending champion Sloane Stephens was sent packing from the Miami Open on Sunday after a 6-3 6-2 loss to Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the third round.
The 2017 US Open champion had no answer to Florida-based Maria’s slices, chips and lobs and suffered a second consecutive early exit after losing her first match at Indian Wells to Swiss qualifier Stefanie Vogele.
Maria, ranked 62nd in the world, celebrated prematurely on her third match point with a lob shot that was called out, but won on the next one when Stephens sent a backhand long.
Stephens won the pair’s last meeting in Cincinnati last year but the American struggled throughout in Miami, making 37 unforced errors as her title defence came to a premature conclusion.
“I could not be happier right now,” Maria said. “I think I played at home, because I live here. It was helping me a lot.
“My game is pretty special, so I knew that tonight I had a chance. I played two times against Sloane, so I knew what to expect.”
Earlier on Sunday, second seed Simona Halep fought back from a set down to defeat Polona Hercog and set up a last-16 showdown against Venus Williams.
The 2018 French Open champion had nothing but praise for Hercog, who has a world ranking of 93rd, after dropping the first set and being pushed all the way in the second by the Slovenian.
The Romanian dominated the tiebreak to turn the match around and eventually triumphed 5-7 7-6(1) 6-2.
“It was not easy at all,” Halep said. “I think the level was very, very high. She played unbelievable. If she keeps playing like this, she can be top 20 easy.”
Halep seized the initiative by winning five consecutive points in the second set tiebreak and after lucky loser Hercog pulled to within 3-2 in the concluding set, Halep won the next three games to seal victory.
“I think in the end she got tired a little bit, then I was stepping a little bit forward to be more aggressive,” Halep said.
“She didn’t miss. So it was really difficult. It was a very, very high standard.”
World No 3 Halep avoided becoming the third major player to exit the women’s draw in two days after world No 1 Naomi Osaka was stunned by Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Serena William withdrew with a knee injury.
As a result, the 27-year-old will regain her world No 1 ranking if she reaches the final and loses to anyone other than Czech world number two Petra Kvitova.
She next faces three-time champion Venus Williams in the fourth round after the American won 6-3 6-1 against Russian 14th seed Kasatkina, who failed to register a single hold of serve.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion broke Kasatkina eight times, losing just one game after trailing 3-2 in the opener.
“I didn’t realise that until after the match looking at the stats,” said Williams, who was broken four times. “I’ve never had a match before like that in my life.
“I think in a lot of the matches we played before, she was just on top of her game, couldn’t miss.
“I think today I was just able to control the points. Got a few more errors. I’m always at my best when I’m playing aggressive.”
Elsewhere, Latvian 11th seed Anastasija Sevastova suffered a surprise 1-6 6-2 6-3 defeat to Kazakh Yulia Putintseva, while Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins went down 7-5 6-1 to China’s Wang Yafan.
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