Five out of eight seeds have now crashed out of the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup in the opening round after Aleksandra Krunic came from behind to topple Ekaterina Makarova.
Alex Macpherson
April 25, 2018

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Unseeded Aleksandra Krunic added to the carnage at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup on the final day of first-round play with a topsy-turvy 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 defeat of No.5 seed Ekaterina Makarova in one hour and 36 minutes.

Half of the tournament's seeded players had already been toppled in the first two days - No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska, No.4 Zhang Shuai, No.6 Sorana Cirstea and No.8 Aryna Sabalenka - and today's win backed up Krunic's 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Makarova in their only previous encounter, in the second round of Rabat in 2016.

Neither player entered today's match in their best form - Krunic's 2018 record was a modest 4-7, while Makarova stood at just 6-9 - and for the first two sets, neither would play well at the same time.

The Russian, moreover, was coming off a disappointing Fed Cup campaign against Latvia last weekend in which she had lost both of her singles rubbers, to Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova. As the match started, though, she showed few lingering effects of those defeats, nor of the 4,700km journey from Khanty-Mansiysk to Istanbul she had made to get here.

Ekaterina Makarova winds up for a forehand (TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup/Mustafa Yılmazcan)
Ekaterina Makarova winds up for a forehand (TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup/Mustafa Yılmazcan)

After saving a break point in the very first game, Makarova steamrolled through the rest of the set in just 26 minutes, winning 83% of her first service points and breaking Krunic twice as the Serb struggled with her range on her groundstrokes.

As she closed out the set with two service winners and a delightful counter-drop, the left-hander looked in imperious form. However, Krunic's scrambling abilities and clay-court nous came to the fore in the second set, an almost exact reversal of the first which the 25-year-old powered through in 24 minutes.

Adding more topspin to her groundstrokes, the World No.53 substantially cut down on her loose errors - as well as anticipating Makarova's power better as the match progressed. Indeed, the greatest statistical about-turn came on the former World No.8's serve. Even though Makarova actually raised her first serve percentage from 46% in the first set to 85%, Krunic's improved returning ensured that the 29-year-old would win a mere four points on serve across the second set.

Aleksandra Krunic strikes a backhand on her way to a comeback victory (TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup/Mustafa Yılmazcan)
Aleksandra Krunic strikes a backhand on her way to a comeback victory (TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup/Mustafa Yılmazcan)

After two lop-sided sets, the decider finally found both players raising their games at the same time. Krunic would continue to be the more energetic presence on court - not only in her indefatigable defence but in her canny creativity and shot placement. 

In the second game - just the second deuce game of the match, and first since the opening game - the Guangzhou finalist saved four break points with a smash, an ace, a pass and a crunching forehand winner; three games later, she struck first by seizing the first break of the set with a heavy forehand return, loaded with topspin, that Makarova was unable to control. Krunic would also win a handful of delightful cat-and-mouse points, repeatedly chasing down dropshots and lofting reflex volleys over her opponent's head.

Makarova would go down fighting, staving off five match points in the eighth game of the set with her best tennis of the day: two brilliant volleys that even the determined Krunic was unable to retrieve and a brace of booming forehands. But Krunic was not to be diverted as she served out to 15 in the subsequent game, setting up a second-round match against Maria Sakkari.