EASTBOURNE, Great Britain – No.13 seed Marketa Vondrousova moved through to the second round of the Nature Valley International with a hard-fought 6-2, 6-3 victory over Zheng Saisai.
The 19-year-old, who is at a career-high ranking of WTA World No.16, had lost all of her previous five grass court matches on the WTA Tour before meeting the Chinese, but in her first outing since reaching the French Open final she recorded a deserved success in 98 minutes.
In a competitive first set, interrupted for more than an hour due to rain, the teenager always appeared to have the edge, despite hitting only five winners to 11 unforced errors. The second was marked by several shifts of momentum, though the Czech showed admirable mental strength to fend off a string of break points and ultimately get over the line.
“I’m still young, so I’ve not played many matches on it!” she said, reacting to her first success on the surface. “I think I played a good match today, so I’m very happy.”
Inroads would be made on the Zheng serve from the outset, with the WTA World No.43 forced to save a break point to get herself on the board in the opening game of the match. It would prove to be the only time she held serve in the first set.
Aside from a sloppy service game after the rain break, it was thereafter Vondrousova who had an answer for everything her opponent threw at her in a match that started as a baseline battle but developed into an expansive affair, with Zheng happy to approach the net off chips or slices and her opponent content to invite her in off drops.
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With the first set already in the books, Vondrousova set about moving into the ascendancy in the second, breaking immediately before missing an opportunity to move 3-0 up.
Just as she was broken out of the blue in the first set to allow Zheng back on terms at 2-2, she tossed in a double double fault to present her opponent with a cheap break at the same stage of the second.
This proved the reprieve that the former Nottingham semifinalist, who lost to Samantha Stosur in Mallorca last week, needed to gain a foothold in the match. With Vondrousova’s tennis temporarily frenetic, Zheng’s approaches to the net became more effective and allowed her to fashion eight break points in a titanic sixth game.
The Czech, however, saved them all to instigate another change of momentum. Minutes later, she had broken serve again, scampering onto a heavy drop shot to play an easy backhand winner down the line.
Zheng’s resistance was finally broken by this blow as Vondrousova sped through the final two games to set up a second-round meeting with Elise Mertens, sealing victory with a skidding winner that was well beyond her opponent’s reach.
Having already defeated the Belgian on the hard courts of Miami earlier this year, Vondrousova is expecting a difficult challenge up next.
“It’s grass, so it’s going to be different,” she warned.