HOBART, Australia - Needing a pair of tiebreaks, No.6 seed Magda Linette battled to a first-ever victory over two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round of the Hobart International, 7-6(2), 7-6(9).
Both players entered the match in search of their first win of 2020, with Linette having lost to Zhang Shuai in the first round of last week's Shenzhen Open, and Kuznetsova having been forced to withdraw from the ASB Classic with a viral illness.
In the pair's first meeting, it was the Polish No.1 who secured victory in two hours and six minutes behind a pair of contrasting tiebreaks, after having trailed in both sets.
In her on-court interview after the match, the Pole lauded her ability to overcome both her veteran opponent, and challenging conditions.
"It was very difficult today. The wind was quite tricky," Linette said. "She's very experienced and she knows how to play. I had to bring my best today."
Later, she added: "You could hear that Svetlana was still a little bit sick, but it was still super difficult to perform our best. I just had to find a way, and I'm glad that I won."
The World No.43 was a break down in both sets, rallying from a 4-2 deficit in the first and a 4-1 deficit in the second, but she ultimately needed a second chance to see off the two-time Grand Slam champion in extended play.
The Russian saved three set points on serve in the 10th game of the opener, but could not battle back from a 5-1 deficit in the ensuing tiebreak, and found herself close to extending the match to a decider after breaking Linette when she served for the match in the second set.
After saving two match points from 6-4 down, the Russian had a trio of set points herself in the second set tiebreak, but proved unable to convert any of the three at 7-6, 8-7 or 9-8 -- the last of which came behind her serve.
Honestly, I think I was maybe a little bit more powerful today. I was trying to be more aggressive," Linette said. "I made mistakes...but eventually, it paid off. I'm glad, because it was really, really difficult mentally to sacrifice a couple of points. It was super close, so I'm glad that it was worth it.
"The first one, I was playing really well in the first tiebreak. The second one, I started well, but it didn't follow. I was brave, and I was hitting the ball pretty fast, especially on her set points.
"I had a tactic to move her as much as I could, because she defends so well, and she likes to be in this position. I really had to work and make sure that I was going forward on the right balls. You could really see her experience because she was fighting until the end."
After securing her first career victory against a Grand Slam champion, the 27-year-old Linette will next face American Lauren Davis, who needed over two-and-a-half hours to overcome wildcard Astra Sharma, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6), after saving match point herself in the deciding tiebreak.
"I'm happy because, mentally, this is definitely a big step for me," Linette said. "I'm trying to focus on every match. Every opponent here can be dangerous, and anybody can beat anybody.
"I'm glad that I closed in two sets today, and I can be fresh for my next round. I hope that I can compete the same way and we'll see how it's going to be."
Other winners in Monday's day session were France's Fiona Ferro, who advanced when No.7 seed Rebecca Peterson retired due to a lower back injury at 4-4 in the opening set, and a pair of qualifiers in Kateryna Kozlova and Heather Watson.
Kozlova surrendered just three games to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-2, 6-1, while Watson, a former champion in Hobart in 2015, came from 6-1, 3-0 down to beat Switzerland's Jil Teichmann, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.