ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Last year’s finalist Donna Vekic got her 2020 St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy campaign off to a strong start, as the Croatian moved past American qualifier Kristie Ahn in the opening round of the Premier-level event.

7th-seeded Vekic moved into the biggest final of her career at this event one year ago, and she continued her rich vein of form in St. Petersburg with her 70-minute victory over Ahn, improving her record against the American to a perfect 2-0.

"I was happy that I managed to find some rhythm towards the end of the match," Vekic said, after her victory.

"[Ahn is] a tricky opponent, she doesn’t give a lot of rhythm, she plays very flat, so I was a little bit struggling in the beginning. I felt the balls were flying a bit, so it took me a while to get into the match. I’m happy I managed to find my way."

The World No.23 fired 16 winners, including five aces, to just seven unforced errors, as she eased past the 97th-ranked qualifier, who was aiming for her first main-draw victory of the season. Vekic was stingy on serve throughout the encounter as well, giving up seven of 24 first-service points, and ceding just three of her 16 second-service deliveries.

The match was closely contested in the opening games, but Vekic ultimately attained the first break at 2-2 through exquisite returning. Ahn, though, continued to impress her game upon last year’s finalist, and converted a break point with excellent depth of shot to level the set at 4-4.

However, the American was unable to capitalize on her comeback, and Vekic held three break points in the very next game. Strong defense by the Croatian on her third chance eventually led to a wide miscue by Ahn, and Vekic was able to eke ahead by a break once more.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Vekic raced through her service game, blasting an ace to set up triple set point, then converting her very first chance after a fierce forehand forced a long error from Ahn. The Croatian won more than half of Ahn’s first-service points in the opener, and finished the first set with eight winners to Ahn’s three.

Ahn quickly ended up under the gun in the second set as well, staring down three break points in her first service game of the frame. Superb all-court play helped the qualifier fend off two, but Vekic cracked back-to-back service winners to polish off the game and obtain the quick break.

Vekic went on a roll from there, moving to 4-0 on the back of six consecutive games won. Ahn served her way out of trouble to stunt Vekic’s run and hold for 4-1, but the Croatian was undaunted as she powered to a love service hold to reach 5-1. Two long forehands by the American ended the match in the next game, and Vekic was safely into round two.

Vekic will now face a home favorite in her next match -- the winner of the all-Russian duel between Daria Kasatkina and Ekaterina Alexandrova will be her second-round opponent.

"I’m sure that everyone will still be supporting them," Vekic laughed. "But I feel great crowd support here in the last couple of years. It really helps and makes it a lot more enjoyable."

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