FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil - The WTA Brasil Tennis Cup lost its No.2 and No.3 seeds on Monday and Tuesday, and the No.1 seed was in big trouble on Wednesday - but survived. Venus Williams battled to the bitter end to beat Spanish teenager Garbiñe Muguruza in a second round thriller, 64 26 75.
The 19-year-old Muguruza had big wins before - last year in Miami she beat then-World No.9 Vera Zvonareva, which was in just her second WTA-level match, making her the equal-fastest player ever to beat a Top 10 player (Andrea Leand also did it in her second WTA-level match in the 1980s).
And after dropping the first set it looked like Muguruza was going to pull off another big victory, cruising through the second set and building a 3-1 lead in the third, even breaking at 3-all for a 4-3 lead, too - but Williams just never gave in, reeling off four of the last five games of the match to win.
"I knew Serena played her earlier this year in Australia but I didn't really know too much about her game going into the match," Williams said afterwards. "I felt a little bit up and down today, probably from not playing a lot of matches the last few weeks. I'm still trying to find my rhythm. She was playing really well - I just really wanted to win tonight and play another day here in Florianopolis."
Williams was asked how important mental strength was to pull the match out. "Mental strength is half the game - the best players have mental strength," she said. "I have a lot of experience in my career in close matches like this - some I've lost and some I've won. And in matches like yesterday, you get disappointed when you have match points and don't convert them, but you just have to stay strong."
"I'm happy but sad, because I was leading in the third set and had a lot of chances and then she won," Muguruza said. "But I was moving well and playing well in the rallies, so I'm happy about that."
"It was an incredible match for me," Babos said. "I think I played some really good tennis out there. I haven't felt like that on the court for a long time. I'm very happy to get through that match."
The other two seeds in action during the day session both won, with No.5 seed Magdalena Rybarikova battling over two and a half hours and coming from 3-1 down in the third set to beat Spanish qualifier Beatriz García Vidagany, 64 36 64, and No.7 seed Kristina Mladenovic routing Tatjana Malek, 62 61.
Other early winners were Melinda Czink, who had to save three match points to beat Brazilian wildcard Beatriz Haddad Maia, 16 62 76(3) (read more about that match here); Olga Puchkova, who beat Caroline Garcia, 36 63 63; and Monica Niculescu, who beat Croatian qualifier Tereza Mrdeza, 61 61.
"It was pretty good - I played really well, played each point and focused on every ball," Niculescu said. "I managed to finish fast, which is better so I can go into tomorrow feeling physically good."
And Niculescu's physical wellness was really put to the test in her previous match, saving match points and winning a marathon against Anabel Medina Garrigues in the first round. "I'm happy that I finished faster than my previous match - my body was really feeling it," the bubbly Romanian added.