'S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands - Margarita Gasparyan was triumphant in her first grass-court match in three years, upsetting No.7 seed Viktoria Kuzmova 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in two hours and 23 minutes in the first round of the Libéma Open.
"It was such a tough match, I'm happy I came through!" gushed the Russian in the on-court interview after scoring her second Top 50 win of the season following a win over Mihaela Buzarnescu in Istanbul. "I love grass, I love to play on grass," she continued.
The feast of shotmaking from Gasparyan's racquet as she turned the match around bore her love of the lawns out - but incredibly, this is the first main draw win on grass of her career. Previously, the 24-year-old's most notable performance on the surface came in qualifying for Wimbledon 2015, where she put up a good fight against eventual champion Serena Williams in the first round.
Indeed, it was a while today before Gasparyan began to showcase her ability. Kuzmova, who reached the semifinals here last year on her own grass-court debut, appeared far more at ease, finding angles and power to strike rapid-fire winners off both wings and slamming down four aces. The Slovak, consistently testing Gasparyan's reflexes with the depth of her returns, carved out break points in each of the World No.63's first three service games, converting twice en route to a 5-1 lead before saving two break points with clutch serving to seal the set.
Gasparyan hit back in the second set, taking advantage of a flurry of forehand errors from Kuzmova to break in the third game - and then coming through a titanic six-deuce hold with three unreturnable serves of her own to edge ahead 4-1. But the Tashkent champion's problem to this point had been her inability to sustain her flashes of brilliance - and so it proved in the second set as she failed to press home her advantage.
Instead, it was Kuzmova who reeled off four straight games to reach the brink of victory, with Gasparyan offering up netted slices and volleys, wild shanks and five double faults as her lead evaporated. Serving for the match, Kuzmova was all but home and dry with a 30-0 lead - but, a handful of careless errors later, suddenly found that her opportunity had passed.
— WTA (@WTA) June 10, 2019
Similarly, the World No.44 could not take advantage of a 4-2 lead in the ensuing tiebreak as Gasparyan found some of her best serving - and a brilliant forehand down the line - to steal a set that had been within touching distance for Kuzmova. Neither could a rain delay restore the 21-year-old's first-set dominance: instead, on resumption it was Gasparyan who retained her momentum.
Upping her first serve percentage from 55% in the first set to 79% in the third, Gasparyan was able to put together an extended patch of excellent form for the first time to come through a tight decider. Moving smoothly and defending superbly, the Istanbul semifinalist was increasingly able to weather Kuzmova's first-strike blows - as well as finding some exquisite winners of her own, breaking for 2-1 by blitzing an off forehand return.
— WTA (@WTA) June 10, 2019
"I felt not so good [at the start]," explained Gasparyan afterwards. "I had some stupid mistakes. But I start to play more aggressive, and it worked." The former World No.41 also displayed admirable fortitude to hold on to her lead: on the edge of a double break cushion with a 0-40 lead at 3-1, Kuzmova found five unreturnable first serves to stave off danger before clinging on to her serve with a remarkable angled get.
There was to be no danger of another momentum shift, though. With her one-handed backhand in full flow and her tally of aces reaching seven, Gasparyan would concede just three more points on serve, sealing victory as a Kuzmova forehand sailed wide. Next up for Gasparyan will be either Mona Barthel or qualifier Greet Minnen.