MOSCOW, Russia – No.6 seed Anastasija Sevastova moved into the second round of the Kremlin Cup with a comfortable 6-1, 7-5 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich in one hour and 37 minutes.
In a battle between two players who have struggled to find their best form recently, it was the Latvian, a former World No.11, who produced the more dependable tennis to win her first match since the US Open.
The 29-year-old World No.24 won six games in succession to claim the opening set, but was made to fight harder for the second by her opponent, who had reached back-to-back quarterfinals in this tournament.
It was an encounter that had opened with much promise for the World No.64, who established a 15-40 advantage in the opening game, which she went on to claim against the serve on her fifth break point.
"Although I got broken in the first game, I think I made a good start in the first set and it went smoothly," Sevastova said after the match.
"In the second set, I had to stay tough and show my best and in the end it was a very close match."
What followed, though, was domination from the higher-ranked player, who broke back immediately to 15 and benefited from a slew of unforced errors coming off her opponent’s racquet, totaling 17 in total in the first set.
Interspersed among the Sasnovich mistakes were some excellent flashes from Sevastova, notably a cute dropshot to move ahead 3-1.
With the Belarusian managing to make just 40% of her first serves, it was little surprise that the set quickly slipped away from her.
The rot was halted at the beginning of the second set as the 25-year-old finally found some fortune, getting on the board first with a shot that hit the net twice before creeping over.
Two break points followed in the fourth game, though the second of these was saved by Sevastova via a challenge and the set continued on serve after six deuces and eight minutes.
It proved a critical moment of the match as the Jurmala champion re-established her control over the match by breaking with a thumping winner down the line after running around her backhand. Just 65 seconds later, she had consolidated the break with a love service hold.
With the match now on the line, the quality from both players rose. Sasnovich reeled in her rival with her best game of the match, aggressively attacking the net to win back the break that she had earlier lost.
Although Sasnovich was now constructing some lovely rallies, a double fault at deuce when the set was poised on a knife edge at 5-5 was critical.
It was followed up by an outrageous angled winner from Sevastova, who ran down a drop volley, to secure the break, and from that position there was no stopping the seeded player, who sealed the match with some deft touch at the net.
"I think when she’s on the brink, she’s a tough type of opponent. As the score gets closer, she’s producing her best tennis – and only the best players do that," Sevastova added.
"I knew it would be tough, even when I was ahead, and she would come back and start playing her best tennis at some point. In the end, it was only one break that made the difference at 5-5, and that was a close, close, close game and we showed some unbelievable rallies."
She will next face either Kristina Mladenovic or Yulia Putintseva.