MADRID, Spain - It was an action-packed day at La Caja Mágica on Saturday as former French Open finalists Samantha Stosur and Venus Williams both squeaked through their first round matches at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The No.5-seeded Stosur was the first to advance, beating Petra Martic in an impressive serving display, 75 46 76(5). The two players combined to hold 32 of the 34 service games in the match, the only breaks coming in back-to-back games, Stosur getting her break in the last game of the opening set and Martic getting hers straight afterwards in the first game of the second set.
But Martic had never beaten a Top 10 player before, and that may have come into play in the tie-break, as Stosur built a 6-3 lead and eventually sealed the deal on her third match point. Martic is now 0-8 against Top 10 players.
"Petra was playing really well, and it really went down to the wire today," Stosur said after the match. "I thought my level got better and better as the match went on, and the last half of the third set was the best tennis we played. It was really tight, really close. I'm very, very pleased to get through that one."
Next for Stosur is young American Christina McHale. "She's an up-and-coming young player who hits the ball well and is a great athlete," Stosur said. "I will have to be prepared and be on my game. She probably has nothing to lose.
"We've practiced a few times and I think we've played one other time."
Williams, a wildcard into the draw and playing just her third tournament back from a seven month illness lay-off, looked headed for a routine straight set win as she built a 61 20 lead on Simona Halep; but things got a lot more dramatic, as Halep fought back to win the second set and go up 4-2 in the third, with Williams finally putting the Romanian away in a 61 46 76(6) nail-biter.
"On the last match point I went for it - I wanted to leave it all out there on the court," Williams said. "In the second set she got back in it and played amazing. I have to give her credit for that, and I'm glad to pull the victory out today.
"A match like that can be good. We hit a lot of balls and I was able to get that clay court mentality right away. I have to keep remembering I'm on clay."
Stosur wasn't the only Top 10 player in action, with three others taking the court. But only No.8 seed and reigning French Open champion Li Na managed to win, beating Spanish wildcard Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco, 62 64. No.7 seed Marion Bartoli led 3-1 in the second set and 2-0 in the third but ended up losing a near-three hour marathon to Sorana Cirstea, 67(6) 64 63, while No.10 seed Vera Zvonareva went down quietly to Petra Cetkovska, 62 62.
Other winners were Mona Barthel, Klara Zakopalova and Spanish wildcard Sílvia Soler-Espinosa. Barthel came alive from 4-2 down in the opening set, winning 10 of the next 11 games to beat fellow German Julia Goerges, 64 61.
"I knew it would be tough today," Barthel said. "It's not easy to play someone from your country. She has been playing really well this year. And she was in the semifinals here last year too. I was just trying to enjoy it today.
"I'm feeling really good now. Last year at this time I think I was hardly Top 200 and just trying to play qualifying, and now I'm almost Top 30, playing all the WTA tournaments I want and Grand Slams, and almost seeded at the Grand Slams too. It definitely a very, very strange feeling for me right now.
"This is a really nice tournament and I just want to enjoy it."