LONDON, UK - No.6 seed Petra Kvitova returned from a six-week injury layoff in style, coming through the creative test of Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-2 in exactly one hour.
The Czech star had not played since retiring to Maria Sakkari in the third round of Rome in May, withdrawing from Roland Garros and her grass warm-up tournaments with a left forearm problem - and was facing an opponent also entering Wimbledon under an injury cloud. Jabeur had played some magical tennis en route to a season-best performance last week in Eastbourne - but went over on her ankle in the closing stages of her quarterfinal win over Alizé Cornet, and was forced to withdraw ahead of her semifinal against Angelique Kerber.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2019
It was a relief, then, to see both players come out of the gates unhampered - certainly on serve, anyway, with the match opening with five quickfire service holds, only three points going against the server. In the sixth game, though, Jabeur's high-risk strategy wobbled, encouraged on its way by Kvitova approaching the net with aggressive intent; a dropshot drifted just wide and the Tunisian's rocket groundstrokes missed their mark to concede the first break as Kvitova quickly leapt out to a 5-2 lead.
On the brink of losing the first set, the World No.56 stemmed her flow of errors, saving three set points with clutch serving and a flashy forehand - before breaking Kvitova with a finely timed lob. But the deficit was too much for Jabeur to make up - and the two-time champion finally got over the line on her fifth set point.
Jabeur's strategy had been to go toe-to-toe with Kvitova in terms of aggression - and while this paid off on a few occasions with some spectacularly redirected pace, more often than not it merely played into the Australian Open finalist's hands. Kvitova's relentless weight of shot routinely rushed the Moscow runner-up and allowed her no time to create her trademark finesse shots; instead, high-octane baseline rallies tended to end with Jabeur, who would tally 15 unforced errors to only nine winners, misfiring.
By contrast, a relaxed-looking Kvitova was able to play within herself to maintain control of the scoreboard. Some fine net play and breathtaking returning found her breaking Jabeur three times in the set; and although the Eastbourne semifinalist was able to peg one of those back, Kvitova was an increasingly irresistible form as she headed towards the finishing line.
A brilliant angled forehand winner would set up match point - and the former World No.2 would take it with a cheekily dinked reflex volley, her 11th winner of the day, to set up a second-round tilt against doubles World No.1 Kristina Mladenovic.