CHARLESTON, SC, USA - The first round of the Family Circle Cup kicked off on Monday, and for a few players in particular it was a very, very long day at the office at the Premier-level tournament.
For Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Anastasia Rodionova it was the longest of the year, in fact - the two battled it out for three hours and 42 minutes, the longest match of the year so far, and after saving a match point down 5-4 in the third set it was Mattek-Sands who finished on top, 64 67(4) 76(3).
"Right now I'm a little cold - I was in an ice bath for about 20 minutes!" Mattek-Sands said in her post-match press conference. "But it was just a long, tough match. I don't think I've ever played a match that long. The good thing is I showed myself I can last out there and just grind it out. And saving the match point was another big thing for me - it showed me that when there's a lot on the line I can come up with a big shot, a big play. It really gives me a lot of confidence going forward into my next matches."
Awaiting Mattek-Sands in the second round is No.4 seed Sloane Stephens, who had a first round bye. Stephens has beaten Mattek-Sands in both of their previous meetings, both meetings coming last year.
"She's got a boatload of confidence this year," Mattek-Sands said. "I played her last year and lost to her a couple of times - obviously I want to get some revenge, but she's a tough opponent. I have to play aggressively or else she'll probably hit me off the court. She's got a lot of power out there.
"She's had some awesome results this year. It's going to be a tough one."
Mattek-Sands wasn't the only player to save match point and win - Sílvia Soler-Espinosa saved one down 6-5 in the third set tie-break to make it past Francesca Schiavone, 36 64 76(6), while American qualifier Jessica Pegula saved one down 5-4 in the third to beat Garbiñe Muguruza, 67(2) 64 75.
The three seeds in action had mixed results, with No.11 seed Sorana Cirstea rallying from 4-2 down in the second set to beat Tatjana Malek in straight sets, 64 76(5), and No.12 seed Varvara Lepchenko beating fellow American Christina McHale in three sets, 63 46 62, but No.13 Tamira Paszek dropping the first set to American qualifier Grace Min, 6-3, then having to retire due to a neck injury.
Also among the things taking place on Monday was the All-Access Hour, where the top seeds meet the local media - among those taking part was No.3 seed Samantha Stosur, who is playing for the first time since withdrawing from her quarterfinal match at Indian Wells last month due to a calf injury.
"I'm feeling better and better each day," Stosur said. "I'm really happy with the progress I've made since Indian Wells. I'm looking forward to just going on the court and playing and seeing how it is.
"It was very disappointing to have to pull out in Indian Wells, especially when I was so deep in the tournament and had a chance to keep going, but it was just too risky and I had to take care of it."
Stosur is a former champion at the Family Circle Cup, winning the Premier-level event in 2010.
"Ever since the first time I came here I've loved the event," the World No.9 commented. "They treat the players so well here, whether you're the first seed or the last one in the tournament. The fans come out and the crowd is great, and everyone's so friendly. You can really feel the vibe everywhere.
"It's great to be back."