MONTERREY, México - It was a dramatic Day 2 at the Whirlpool Monterrey Open, with three seeds winning but three falling as the first round wrapped.
Minella seemed headed for a simple win as she raced out to a 61 31 lead, but Johansson won six of the next eight games to take the second set. Minella built a 4-0 lead in the third set, but again Johansson won six of the next eight games to push it to a tie-break. It looked like history was repeating itself one more time as Minella's 6-3 lead in the breaker shrunk to 6-5, but that's when her luck finally turned - Johansson hit the dreaded double fault on match point No.3.
"It was a very difficult match. I fought hard for the victory and I'm very happy right now," Minella said afterwards. "I think I was more aggressive today, and that was the key. She was playing very well too, especially later in the match."
Minella is part of a growing breed of tennis players who break through later in their careers - the 26-year-old just made her Top 100 debut last week, and she is now one victory away from her very first WTA quarterfinal.
"I think I have a lot more confidence now. I'm at my highest ranking," Minella commented. "I've been improving a lot the last few years. I've been playing better tennis and am at a different level than in previous years, I believe."
Minella was also asked about Monterrey. "It's a beautiful city. There are a lot of things to see, like stores and museums, and anytime I play in México, like challengers, juniors and WTA events, the people are so nice, very warm and welcoming. I really enjoy myself every time I play in this country."
Standing in between Minella and that first WTA quarterfinal will be Yaroslava Shvedova, who had a similar story with fellow Kazakh Sesil Karatantcheva, storming out to a 61 42 lead but eventually grinding out a 61 46 63 victory. Shvedova is a former Top 30 player making her way back up the singles rankings after a serious knee injury; she is currently a Top 5 doubles player.
Minella and Shvedova will be playing against each other for the first time.
Joining Johansson on the sidelines were No.4 seed Alexandra Dulgheru, who fell to Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, 63 63, and No.5 seed Gisela Dulko, who had set point in the second set but lost to Patricia Mayr-Achleitner in two, 64 76(2).
No.3 seed Sorana Cirstea, No.6 seed Greta Arn and No.8 seed Lourdes Domínguez Lino all won, although Cirstea nearly fell as well, facing a point for a 5-3 third set deficit but hanging on to beat Stefanie Voegele, 63 26 75.
On a lighter note, while two-time Premier-level champion Dulgheru may not have been able to win like Billie Jean this time, she certainly managed to move to Billie Jean at the player party a few days ago - see the YouTube video below.