TIANJIN, China - Still mathematically alive on the Porsche Race to Singapore in her bid to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presentedby SC Global, No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka outlasted American teenager Sofia Kenin in the first round of the Tianjin Open on Tuesday, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-0.
The Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open champion needs to win the International-level event, and also needs help in the form of other results from Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens to keep her slim chances of qualifying alive, but took the first step that's in her hands in the opening round.
"It was another three-set match, and I did my best today, because she was playing really well. In the second set, she was quite good, and I was always under pressure, and I was missing a lot," Sabalenka said.
"In the third set, I said to myself, 'Just put everything in and don't care about what she's doing,' and the game went pretty quickly, and to my side."
The World No.11 and 2017 finalist rallied from an early break down in the opening set, and also saved a trio of break points at 5-5 before winning the ensuing tiebreak.
Though she was stretched the distance after Kenin broke once early, and again late after failing to serve out the second set, the Belarusian responded to the teenager's challenge with aplomb: after breaking Kenin's serve in a lengthy opening game, Sabalenka dropped just four points in the final five games of the match.
"She's growing up and she's a good player...in the first two sets, she was just trying to stay in the points and keep the ball deep," Sabalenka assessed.
"She was going for every ball in the third set, and [she was] missing...so I got a little bit lucky in the third set."
Sabalenka advances to a second round meeting with Poland's Magda Linette, who defeated Evgeniya Rodina in her first match on Monday.
"I never played against her. She's a great player and I think they're [Linette and Kenin] kind of similar players," Sabalenka said. "She's moving well and puts a lot of balls back, so we'll see. It's going to be another tough match."
Other results in the top half of the draw on Tuesday saw Great Britain's Katie Boulter upset No.8 seed Maria Sakkari in straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-3, while Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky advanced after winning the first set when No.7 seed Danielle Collins retired due to injury.
It was the second retirement on the day in Tianjin, as qualifier Barbora Krejcikova advanced while leading 4-1 as Kateryna Kozlova could not continue their match, while another qualifier in Misaki Doi needed nearly two-and-a-half hours to defeat Yulia Putintseva, 6-0, 3-6, 7-6(6).