MADRID, Spain - The most recent champion of a Premier Mandatory event is off and running in the next.
Miami Open champion Ashleigh Barty made a winning return to tour-level tennis with a 6-1, 6-2 win over compatriot Daria Gavrilova in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open on Saturday.
Having not played a WTA match in over a month since winning her biggest crown in Miami, but leading Australia to the Fed Cup final for the first time since 1993 in the interim, the No.9 seed carved out a third career win in four meetings against her fellow Aussie in the first match on Court Manolo Santana.
Barty dominated her compatriot's serve in the match, breaking Gavrilova every time she stepped to the line in the opener, and added three more breaks in the second set.
"It was a tricky first match on clay in almost a year, and tricky playing Dasha, someone from Australia as well. It's never easy," Barty told WTA Insider after the match.
"There are some things we'd love to iron out, but overall, pretty happy. It's very different coming from a hard court that we played on for the last six, seven months. Dasha knows how to play on a clay court, as well.
"She knows her way around it, knows how to create time and I think for me, it's all about patience on clay and giving myself a chance to get into the points."
The tone was set as Gavrilova double faulted twice to hand the advantage over to Barty in the second game of the match, and though she won on the World No.9's serve immediately to break back, she would not win another game in the set.
The World No.58 managed just one winner to 15 unforced errors in the opening set, and she could do little to stem Barty's momentum in the second.
The higher-ranked Aussie's run of games extended to seven straight from 2-1 in the opener when all was said and done, sealing the 65-minute win and spot in the second round with her sixth ace.
"I think, for me, coming to Europe any earlier than this is pretty hard. I think particularly after Fed Cup, I had a week off at home, had one or two sessions on the clay, and then got over here," Barty said.
"For me, it's about going out there, embracing it and enjoying it, trying to make the most of it and give myself a chance. I don't have to change my game too much.
"You're hitting a few more balls than you do on a hard or a grass court, but I still try to set it up around my serve and forehand. At times, my slice is really effective on clay. I just have to continue to learn."