DOHA, Qatar - Dominika Cibulkova became the first main draw winner at the Qatar Toal Open on Monday afternoon, as she edged Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the opening match on Centre Court, 7-6(8), 6-4.
In one of the tour's fiercest head-to-heads, where half of the meetings have been decided by a third set, Cibulkova scored her seventh win in a straight-set affair that nonetheless took nearly two hours to complete.
In the end, the razor-thin margins favored Cibulkova, who needed four set points and saved one herself in the first-set tiebreak, where she built a 4-0 lead but was nonetheless stretched to the limit.
In the second set, Cibulkova kept Pavlyuchenkova at arms' length thanks to a break in the first game, and needed the insurance she added from a break in the fifth, as the Russian posted some late resistance to stay in touch.
"I was expecting a tough match against Anastasia. It's always tough. We know each other really well and played so much great matches," Cibulkova told reporters after the match.
"For an opening match it wasn't an easy draw, I would say...I played the good match for the first round. It's really nice to win such a tough match in the first round."
A 2017 semifinalist in Doha where she lost to eventual champion Karolina Pliskova, the former World No.4 hit 23 winners to 20 unforced errors in the victory, while Pavlyuchenkova struck 28 winners to 26 miscues.
The Slovak is contesting her fourth event of 2018 in Doha, but has seen an uneven start to her campaign since reaching the quarterfinals in Sydney to begin her year.
Upset by Kaia Kanepi in the first round of the Australian Open, Cibulkova is coming off a second-round defeat in St. Petersburg at the hands of Kristina Mladenovic.
"I feel like I'm playing well. I need to get more matches in a row to win, to get the confidence," she said. "I came here a little bit earlier, a few days before just to get used to the balls, the courts, to play outside again, and I think it helped.
"It was pretty sad with my performance at the Australian Open because in Sydney I played really well, and I just felt good. At the first match against Kanepi, I was really flat, so it was one of those bad days.
"I'm just trying to do my best. I'm very experienced player, and I was working on just my serve and all that stuff because playing wise I feel really good. So I'm just trying to put into the matches and get some more matches to win in a row."
Last year's appearance in Doha, where she knocked off Pavlyuchenkova and Samantha Stosur before losing to Pliskova, marked the first time that the Slovak won consecutive matches at the event since 2008.
She'll look to repeat that feat this year in the second round as she takes on No.7 seed Caroline Garcia, against whom she is 1-1 in career meetings.
"It's going to be a tough match," Cibulkova said. "I played her...in Wuhan, and she won the tournament when she was playing really well. I want to keep playing good tennis like this one here."