INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - What looked to be the most compelling doubles match-up on the Thursday schedule at the BNP Paribas Open lived up to its billing, as Gisela Dulko and Paola Suárez edged No.6 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Flavia Pennetta in a match tie-break.
Dulko and Pennetta were one of the WTA's most dominant duos the past few years, amassing 11 titles from 2009 through 2011 - including an Australian Open and a WTA Championships. However, starting in February, Dulko joined forces with fellow Argentine Suárez with an eye on competing at this summer's Olympics in London. In the first round of just her fourth event with Suárez, Dulko was presented with the challenge of competing against, instead of with, the Italian with whom she is so familiar.
Dulko and Suárez were in control early, as they took the first set, 6-3. However, at 3-3 in the second, Medina Garrigues and Pennetta rolled off three straight games, including a break of Dulko's serve at 4-3, to force the match tie-break. After losing the first two points, Dulko and Suárez won four straight en route to their 63 36 107 triumph, setting up a second round encounter with Irina-Camelia Begu and María José Martínez Sánchez.
"Flavia and Anabel played really well, but we played well too," said Dulko, whose only other doubles match against Pennetta occurred in the first round of the 2004 Australian Open. "It was tough to have Flavia on the other side because she's my best friend."
"We started with tournaments in Bogotá, Monterrey and Acapulco, but this is our first big tournament together," said Suárez, who came out of retirement in February. "We're still trying to get our rhythm together, because I was out of tennis almost five years - I didn't even play any tennis. But I feel very good now and it was the right decision for me."
Recording the most lopsided scoreline of the day were another pair of wildcards, as in their first career match together, singles World No.1 Victoria Azarenka and World No.3 Petra Kvitova were 62 62 winners over Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova.
"We won today! It was a great match and a lot fun! Once again, happy birthday to my partner," tweeted Azarenka of Kvitova, who turned 22 on Thursday.
Two seeded teams, seventh-seeded Nuria Llagostera Vives and Arantxa Parra Santonja and eighth-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Vania King, also moved on. The Spaniards beat Kimiko Date-Krumm and Zhang Shuai, 63 64, and the German-American duo defeated Chuang Chia-Jung and Galina Voskoboeva, 75 36 119.
In what may have been the surprise of the day, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, playing their first match since capturing the Australian Open, were taken down by Timea Bacsinszky and Alberta Brianti, 61 64.
The remaining four first round doubles matches will be played Friday, including No.1 seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond against Ekaterina Makarova and Zheng Jie. The Americans, who have captured three straight Premier-level events, will be looking to extend their match winning streak to 12.