SEOUL, South Korea - A year ago María José Martínez Sánchez won her fifth and most recent WTA title at the KDB Korea Open and on Wednesday she made a happy return to the International stop with a routine first round win.
Martínez Sánchez was very sharp on the big points - she converted five of her six break point chances and saved nine of the 11 break points against her - en route to a 62 63 victory over a fellow veteran, qualifier Eleni Daniilidou.
"I feel really comfortable coming back here as defending champion," Martínez Sánchez said of Seoul. "It's a really tough draw this year, and it's going to be difficult to defend my title, but I'll try my best and we'll see how it goes."
It has been a difficult last 12 months for former Top 20 player Martínez Sánchez, going into Seoul last year ranked No.36 in the world and currently down at No.93 - but it has by no means just been an on-court struggle for her.
"At the end of last year I had surgery on my knee, then in the beginning of this season I injured my right thigh a few times - I couldn't play well until May," Martínez Sánchez said. "When I came back I wasn't playing great so it was tough to get matches, but now I'm starting to feel much better - I need more matches though, actually that's my main goal moving forward."
The Spaniard got married in July to longtime boyfriend Juan Domingo Pérez, but that hasn't distracted her. "I'm married but I'm the same player," she said. "All I need is to keep working hard and play more matches. In my free time me and my husband have fun, but other than that I'm very focused on my tennis."
Her schedule the rest of the year? "I'm playing here, then Tokyo, Beijing and Osaka. I'm ranked much higher in doubles than in singles right now, so my biggest goal is to focus much more on my singles the rest of the year."
Another player who has conquered Seoul before, Maria Kirilenko, wasn't as lucky. The No.2-seeded Russian had to retire from her match against Korean wildcard Lee So-Ra at 1-all in the first set because of a back injury.
Other first round matches saw No.4 seed Nadia Petrova hold all nine of her service games to beat Lourdes Domínguez Lino, 62 64, and Tamira Paszek grind past Carla Suárez Navarro in a two-hour-plus two-setter, 76(8) 63.
The second round began as well, beginning with No.3 seed Kaia Kanepi scoring a routine 62 62 win over Galina Voskoboeva. Kanepi is playing her first tournament since the French Open, missing 10 tournaments in between due to a bilateral Achilles injury - she won her first round match in straight sets on Tuesday, and repeated the feat in her second round match Wednesday.
"I'm happy to win in two sets again. I think I played better today," Kanepi said afterwards. "I served better and felt better and wasn't nervous at all anymore.
"It's good to play two matches in a row. They were both around an hour and I don't have any injuries anymore, so things are going well right now."