WUHAN, China - No.16 seed Elena Vesnina enjoyed a blistering start against Chinese star Duan Ying-Ying before eventually closing out the home favorite, 6-3, 6-4, reaching the second round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.
“Ni Hao, everybody!" Vesnina said to open her on-court interview, delighting the Chinese fans. "It was not easy for sure, because playing against Duan Ying-Ying is never easy. She’s playing in front of her home crowd, which was really supportive tonight."
"They were very into the game, the stands were packed," she added to WTA Insider after the match.
The reigning BNP Paribas Open champion needed little encourgament early in the match, striking with authority to race out to a 5-0 lead.
Duan saved two set points and broke back from there, taking some of that momentum into the second set, where she led by a break.
"The fans were really loud during the point, and maybe a little happy at some of my double faults - maybe even louder than in New York!" she said, referencing her US Open clash with Madison Keys.
A point from trailing 5-2, Vesnina switched gears to win the final four games of the match, securing victory after one hour and 25 minutes.
"When I was down 2-4, I knew it was important not to give her too much momentum, stick with my opponent, and not give too many free points. I tried to move her around and make her move every point. When I broke in that game, I felt my momentum was coming, and that I had to take it. From 4-4, I started to play more freely."
In all, the Russian veteran kept her stats relatively clean in her first Wuhan appearance, hitting 19 winners to 23 unforced errors and converting five of six break point opportunities while Duan was undone by 31 unforced errors of her own.
"Can you believe it? It’s been three years and I’ve never been here before, and my first match is a night match on Center Court. Maybe that’s why I took so long; I was waiting for this arrangement, especially after playing Madison Keys on Arthur Ashe Stadium!
"Last year, I was so exhausted after the Olympics and all the injuries I had. This year, I was really looking forward to it because I’d heard so many good things about the tournament from the players, what a nice city and venue it is. I got to see the Wuhan Energy Flower, which was amazing."
In the same section as Toray Pan Pacific Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, Vesnina next plays either Guangzhou doubles champion Elise Mertens or Naomi Osaka.
"I want to do better in Asia than I did last year, besides winning Singapore, of course! I have a small chance to qualify in singles, but you never know. You have to play match by match, believe in yourself, and anything can happen. Let’s hope I find my game, and show really good tennis here in Wuhan and Beijing as well."
Vesnina's doubles partner Ekaterina Makarova enjoyed a strong win over No.15 seed and US Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova, 6-4, 6-2 (highlights below), while qualifiers Monica Puig, Maria Sakkari and Christina McHale all advanced into the second round over Mona Barthel, Yulia Putintseva, and Roberta Vinci.
Around the grounds, Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko needed seven match points to defeat Carla Suárez Navarro, 6-3, 7-6(12). Her reward? Top seed and World No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza.