ESTORIL, Portugal - Playing her first match since returning to the Top 20 last week, Maria Kirilenko was tested but showed just how tough she's playing, fending off quadruple set point in a first round win over Elena Baltacha.
Kirilenko, who won the Estoril Open title in 2008 and is seeded No.2 this time, was cruising 4-1 in the first set when Baltacha really found her range, winning five of the next seven games to push the set to a tie-break. She raced ahead 6-2 with quadruple set point but Kirilenko was just too tough, winning six points in a row to steal the marathon 61-minute opening set 8-6 in the breaker.
The No.19-ranked Kirilenko cruised from there for a 76(6) 61 victory.
Last week Kirilenko inched back into the world's Top 20, going from No.21 to No.20 - this week she moved from No.20 to No.19. She is currently spending her 27th career week inside the elite, having spent time in there in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011. She has been ranked as high as No.18 in the world.
Anabel Medina Garrigues, another former Estoril Open champion - winning the title last year - and a former Top 20 player herself, going as high as No.16 in the world, was also among the winners on Tuesday, grinding out a 55-minute first set then rolling to victory over German qualifier Kristina Barrois, 64 61. It was a first round rematch of the 2011 final, which Medina Garrigues won.
"I couldn't warm up properly because it was raining before, so the beginning was a bit strange, but I started to feel better once we got going," the No.3-seeded Medina Garrigues said. "When you win a tournament you always want to come back and defend it the next year, but every match here is going to be difficult and I have to go step by step. Tomorrow I have another match. We'll see."
Another former champion was in action in the last match of the day, as No.5 seed Zheng Jie beat Ekaterina Makarova, 63 61. Zheng won this title back in 2006, playing Li Na in the final - the first ever all-Chinese WTA final.