SHENZHEN, China - Anna Blinkova scored the first Top 10 victory of her career on Tuesday at the Shenzhen Open, rallying from a set down to defeat top seed Belinda Bencic, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, in the opening round.
Blinkova had been 0-4 in her career against the Top 10 to date, having won just one set in her four prior meetings, but served a dozen aces and broke serve five times to upset the World No.8, despite 50 places between them in the rankings.
"It was a great performance from me today," Blinkova said after the match. "I prepared very carefully and I'm happy that I played good tennis. I was thinking to just fight for every point. I'm feeling really good and I'm so happy."
Though she proved unable to seal a first-round upset of Naomi Osaka at the US Open last summer, falling to the 2018 champion in three sets, Blinkova rallied from a set down to ultimately see off the World No.8 in a shade under two hours.
After losing five of the first six games, the 21-year-old Russian slowly worked her way into her first-ever meeting against the World No.8, never losing serve after being broken three times in the opener.
"I didn't feel great in the beginning of the match," Blinkova continued. "I didn't feel the ball and my shots. I didn't play bad, but I managed to increase the level of my game slowly, step by step.
"I said to myself that I needed to put more balls in the court, because I was giving her too many mistakes. I tried to play big margins, but aggressive."
Conversely, Blinkova ramped up the pressure on return in the second and third sets, where she not only withstood seven of Bencic's eight aces, but broke serve in the sixth game of the second set to help send the match to a decider, and started and ended the final set with two more service breaks.
The Russian capped her 2019 season with runs to the semifinals of the Guangzhou Open and the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open, and now looks to reach her first quarterfinal to start 2020 when she faces Kazakh Zarina Diyas in the second round.
Diyas, already a winner at the ITF W25 event in Hong Kong last week, stretched her winning streak to start the year to six matches -- all without the loss of a set -- with a 6-3, 6-4 win over wildcard Duan Yingying.
"In preseason, I worked on my fitness a lot. I did a lot of conditioning. In practice, I improved my technique a little bit and my shots. I've been working really hard, and I'm very satisfied with my preseason," she said.
"My goals are to improve my game with every match, learn new things, and apply them in every one of my next matches."