SYDNEY, Australia - Act 1 of the Apia International Sydney's battle for No.1 took place on Tuesday, with Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova both winning their opening matches at the Premier-level tournament - but just barely.
Wozniacki, the current World No.1, was the first to take the court, playing Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova had beaten Wozniacki twice in 2011, once right here in Sydney and once at Wimbledon; and she rose to the occasion again this time, losing the first set 7-5 but storming through the second set 6-2, and building a 4-0 lead in the third. Wozniacki wasn't about to let it go though, winning six games in a row to escape with a 75 26 64 victory.
"She was hammering the ball. I was just standing there and trying to figure out what to do," Wozniacki commented. "I felt like everything I tried to do wasn't working and I was making a lot of unforced errors. So I said, 'Okay, let's just keep a margin to the lines and give her that extra ball.' It paid off in the end.
"That I could fight back from that score and win is definitely satisfying, but I'll need to step my game up a little bit in the next round."
Kvitova, who is currently ranked No.2 but would rise to No.1 by winning this tournament, won by an almost similar scoreline against Romanian lucky loser Alexandra Dulgheru, 75 36 64. Kvitova never had to come from behind in the third set, however - she got the only break of the set in the third game and rode it to victory, a revenge victory - Dulgheru had beaten her at the US Open.
"It was my first match of the tournament and first match outdoors. It was hard getting used to the conditions," Kvitova said afterwards. "Usually when I go outdoors, the serve is the biggest problem for me, but today it was really good. And it was a little bit in my head that I lost to her at the US Open - it was a tough first match for me here, but I really wanted to win against her today."
Although there are still a few rounds to go, a Wozniacki-Kvitova final has the world watching, as it would determine the No.1 ranking going into Melbourne.
"Petra is a great girl. She's one of my good friends," Wozniacki said. "I'm sure we'll play against each other a lot and both do well in the years to come. The most important thing, though, is that we're all healthy and playing well."
"I'm not really focused on the first spot," Kvitova declared. "This tournament is very tough and everybody is playing here. It's like the final rounds of a Grand Slam, so it's not easy to win these matches. So it's only words."
Awaiting Wozniacki in the quarterfinals is No.7 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who saved an impressive 14 of 17 break points during a 75 64 win over Andrea Petkovic (Wozniacki leads Radwanska in their head-to-head, 5-1). Next up for Kvitova is Daniela Hantuchova, who got past Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone, 75 61 (Kvitova leads Hantuchova in their head-to-head, 3-0).
In other matches, No.3 seed Victoria Azarenka beat Jelena Jankovic, 64 62; No.4 seed Li Na rallied to beat Chanelle Scheepers, 26 64 61; No.8 seed Marion Bartoli cruised past Jelena Dokic, 60 63; and Lucie Safarova won when Svetlana Kuznetsova retired with heat illness down 61 20.
Azarenka will play Bartoli (Azarenka leads their head-to-head, 7-2, although Bartoli has won two of their last three meetings); Li will play Safarova (Li leads their head-to-head, 3-1). All four quarterfinals take place Wednesday.