MADRID, Spain - Spanish No.1 Carla Suárez Navarro pulled off a big upset in front of her home crowd at the Mutua Madrid Open on Monday, clinching a tight first set then running away to victory against Sam Stosur in the first round of the Premier-level tournament. Maria Sharapova also won through.
The 66-minute first set between Stosur and Suárez Navarro had all kinds of swings - Suárez Navarro originally led 3-0 before Stosur won four straight games, and eventually the two moved through to a tie-break. Stosur had set point at 7-6 but Suárez Navarro saved it and closed the breaker out, 9-7.
They stayed even through 2-all in the second set but Suárez Navarro broke away from there, reeling off four games in a row to close it out, 76(7) 62, and score the seventh Top 10 win of her career.
"The draw wasn't very good to me, and I knew the match was going to be difficult, so I was prepared with my tactics today," Suárez Navarro said. "Sam is a difficult player and the first set was really difficult. But I was very focused and played a really good match. I'm happy to make the next round."
Suárez Navarro only had one day off between playing the final of Oeiras on Saturday and her first match here. "It was difficult to recover from that loss in Oeiras, and we only had a small window to prepare for today's match, but I was really focused. Once I got here to Madrid, I didn't think of what happened in Oeiras for a single moment. I just wanted to play the best I could here today.
"We only have one tournament here in Spain so for us it's a really important week."
Speaking of playing at home, Suárez Navarro just recently broke into the Top 20 for the first time, a culmination of years of expectations after the Spaniard reached the quarterfinals of two of her first four Grand Slams, the 2008 French Open and 2009 Australian Open. Her thoughts on the pressure?
"I had a great surprise at Roland Garros and from then on everyone was expecting that was going to happen all the time," Suárez Navarro said. "But I don't think there's any pressure or extra barrier on me. People have to realize how difficult playing on the tour is these days. The players are all prepared every match and the gap between the Top 10 and everyone else is massive, just really big.
"I'm trying to do well in the big tournaments, but I don't feel like there's any pressure."
Suárez Navarro Vs Stosur Video: Match Highlights
That was the first match on Manolo Santana court - next up was the No.2 seed, Maria Sharapova, who also survived a tough first set then rolled to victory, beating Alexandra Dulgheru, 75 62. Sharapova was down a break at 4-3 in the first set but broke back then beat the Romanian qualifier in straights.
"I played an opponent who has done fairly well on this surface in her career and has a couple of titles," Sharapova commented. "She had quite a big injury last year but I know she's capable of playing really good clay court tennis, and I expected that from her. Our last match was pretty tough, too.
"Considering all of that I was really happy I got that break back and was able to win in two sets."
Next up for Sharapova is American qualifier Christina McHale, who won a two-hour, 33-minute grinder against Peng Shuai, 75 57 61. Sharapova has beaten McHale in both of their previous meetings.
"I've played against her a few times - once, twice maybe - once last year in Rome, I remember that match," Sharapova said. "She plays extremely well. She dropped in the rankings a little bit, because I remember her being seeded at some of these events, and now she's qualifying. But she plays the top players really well. She doesn't have much to lose; I'm sure she'll be playing really good tennis."
Sharapova Vs Dulgheru Video: Match Highlights
Another first round match earlier in the day saw Kristina Mladenovic beat Spanish wildcard Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, 61 61. The match lasted just 76 minutes, though a big chunk of that was probably taken up by the fifth game of the first set - a marathon 12-deuce Mladenovic service game, with the French teenager saving six break points and slamming four aces before eventually getting the hold.