AUCKLAND, New Zealand - No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska faced a stern challenge from Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, but she escaped with her first victory of the new season in the opening round of the ASB Classic.
2013 champion Radwanska made her return to Auckland for the first time since her title run in hopes of putting a disappointing 2017 season behind her, which saw her end the year ranked outside the Top 20 for the first time in a decade. She ran up against the determined Haddad Maia and passed her first test of the new year in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
“I’m just very happy to win my first match of 2018, and I think it was good timing to come back and do it here in Auckland after five years,” Radwanska said in her on-court interview.
21-year-old Haddad Maia’s solid counterpunching led her to reach her first WTA final in Seoul last season, but against Radwanska she played with high-intensity aggression, keeping pace with the former World No.2 in the early exchanges.
Radwanska’s skillful turn of defense into attack earned her the first break to get ahead 4-2 in the first set, and Haddad Maia couldn’t manage to recover. She looked overwhelmed as she won just two more points as the Pole marched ahead to take the opening set.
But the Brazilian bounced back, pouncing on a string of loose errors from Radwanska to earn her first break of the match to start off the second set and backed it up with a strong hold to love. She looked in trouble when Radwanska broke to drag them level at 4-4, but Haddad Maia kept her cool to break straight back, closing out the second set after a battle.
Radwanska looked in trouble after falling behind a break in the final set, but was able to swing the momentum back in her favor and reeled off five games in a row to escape with the victory after an hour and 53 minutes.
“[Haddad Maia] was playing much higher than her ranking, so you always have to be careful of those young, talented players,” Radwanska praised afterwards. “She was very strong serving, she hits the ball hard. We’re going to see her more often on the center courts.”
Earlier in the day, No.3 seed Barbora Strycova survived a grueling, three-hour encounter with Sara Errani to advance into the second round, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4.
Strycova was leading Errani by a set and a break when the Italian mounted an impressive comeback, narrowly winning the second set in a tiebreak to force a decider. After a rollercoaster final set - which saw seven breaks of serve and 16 break chances created between the two - the Czech finally emerged victorious, sealing her first victory of 2018 after exactly 180 minutes.
“I fought the whole time,” Strycova said in her on-court interview. “I knew it was going to be a very tough match because we’ve played each other 11 times, and she has won most of them. I knew it would be a tough one, but I felt great on court.”
She added, “It’s great to have a match like this right at the beginning of the season to know where you are and what you need to improve.”