LONDON, Great Britain - Returning to the site of a horrific knee injury that sidelined her for eight months, Bethanie Mattek-Sands could have been forgiven for feeling some trepidation - but the American made a winning return to the Wimbledon lawns with partner Lucie Safarova to upset No.16 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok and Alla Kudryavtseva 7-6(6), 7-5.
The five-time Grand Slam champions are unaccustomed to being unseeded, but in the first Team Bucie match in a year proved that their clutch play is as strong as ever. An efficient first set from both pairs could not have been closer: neither partnership faced a break point all set, and the deciding tiebreak was barely squeaked out by Mattek-Sands and Safarova from 0-3 down.
The strong serving continued in the second set, with only a mid-set exchange of breaks between Kichenok and Safarova interrupting the pattern - until, with the match in the balance at 5-5, Kudryavtseva conceded her delivery with a double fault. Mattek-Sands, the only player who had not dropped serve all day, seized the opportunity to close the match out to 30, finishing in style with an ace.
Also unaccustomed to being unseeded is defending champion Ekaterina Makarova playing this year with 2010 doubles finalist and 2006 mixed doubles champion Vera Zvonareva. Experience triumphed over youth, though, as the 30-year-old Makarova and the 33-year-old Zvonareva were too solid for the talented tandem of 19-year-olds, Anna Blinkova and Marketa Vondrousova, winning 6-3, 6-4.
Last year's runner-up Chan Hao-Ching, playing this year with Yang Zhaoxuan as the No.7 seeds, also got off to a fine start, defeating qualifiers Ysaline Bonaventure and Bibiane Schoofs 6-4, 6-1; while No.11 seeds Raquel Atawo and Anna-Lena Groenefeld eliminated the half-local pairing of Xenia Knoll and Great Britain's Anna Smith 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.