ISTANBUL, Turkey - Former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her comeback to WTA action with a solid victory over Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay in her opening match at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, 6-3, 7-6(4).

Despite winning her 18th WTA title last year in Washington DC, it’s been a tough year and a half for Kuznetsova as injuries took her away from the courts for much of 2018. She had to undergo wrist surgery during the preseason, and then battled knee injury later after the US Open.

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Kuznetsova returned to action last week in Lugano, where she made an excellent run to the quarterfinals, taking out Ekaterina Alexandrova and Timea Bacsinszky along the way.

In Istanbul, Kuznetsova faced the daunting task of taking on local hero Buyukakcay in front of her adoring home crowd. Buyukakcay was 2016’s surprise champion here in Istanbul, winning her lone title after dropping just one set - and becoming the first Turkish woman in history to win a WTA title. But Buyukakcay has struggled to recreate the magic of that fairytale Istanbul run: after her run to the trophy, she has yet to reach another WTA final.

“With the crowd on her side it made it a little more difficult as it felt like I was playing against many people at one time!” Kuznetsova joked with press afterward.

“I’d rather play somewhere when I’m the home favorite, but it’s okay – it’s part of being a tennis player and it’s a good test for your mind!”

Kuznetsova quickly took the lead in the battle between the two wildcard players, silencing the crowd effectively after notching back-to-back breaks of serve to lead Buyukakcay 4-1. Buyukakcay recovered two games in a row to cut down on her opponent’s lead, 4-3. But Kuznetsova reestablished the double break a game later to close out the set 6-3.

Buyukakcay came out on the attack in the second set, pressuring the Kuznetsova serve to create break chances at 1-1 before finally converting at 3-2. But Kuznetsova continued with her game plan, pushing Buyukakcay deep behind the baseline and shutting down the point at the net. She was rewarded with a break back to level at 4-4, and battled her way to a pair of match points.  

The Turkish player pulled off some of her best tennis to save both match points - one at 5-4 and another at 6-5 - and sent the match into a tiebreaker. Kuznetsova remained undaunted, staying toe-to-toe with her opponent through 4-4, before reeling off three points in a row to seal the match - and her first straight-sets victory since beginning her comeback.

“I think Cagla started to play better in the second set and I lost it a little bit in some moments,” Kuznetsova admitted. “But overall for the first round it’s a pretty good performance.”

Up next for Kuznetsova, she’ll take on the winner between on-the-rise Czech youngster Marketa Vondrousova or No.5 seed Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round.

“I feel good physically, I just need to play matches,” she explained. “That’s why I’m trying to play smaller events so I can find my rhythm again.”