ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Qualifier Alizé Cornet scored her second win over Jelena Ostapenko in as many completed meetings in the final first-round match to be played at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, progressing 6-1, 6-2 in one hour and three minutes.
The Frenchwoman had previously defeated Ostapenko in a seesaw 1-6, 7-5, 6-0 opener at Cincinnati 2018, and although the latter had levelled the head-to-head via retirement in Linz last year, Cornet was always in control today. The 30-year-old kept her unforced error count down to a meagre four while, by contrast, Ostapenko's tally spiralled alarmingly out of control to eventually total 20, counterbalanced by only 12 winners.
"I really stayed solid through the match," assessed Cornet of her form afterwards. "I didn't have a single drop in level, I was really consistent from the first to the last point."
The 2017 Roland Garros champion was fresh off an arduous Fed Cup Qualifier tie in Everett, WA, where she had impressed in defeating Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. But the quick turnaround from battling it out on the other side of the world seemed to have taken its toll as Ostapenko struggled to find the court with routine rally shots. Her serve, too, was a problem: two double faults conceded the opening game, two more paved the way to go down a double break in the fifth game and a fifth sank the Latvian down set point.
Cornet, meanwhile, kept her game watertight, with her dogged retrieving eliciting Ostapenko errors on seeming putaway shots. A judicious sprinkling of well-placed dropshots and a 70% first serve percentage bolstered the World No.61's performance as she wrapped up the opening set in 25 minutes.
Ostapenko would receive medical attention in between sets, but the 22-year-old fared little better on resumption. There were some highlights - a 24-shot rally finished with a blistering backhand down the line, a forehand winner slammed after haring up to a Cornet dropshot and a pair of delightful dropshots of her own in the closing stages - but they were all too intermittent. A sixth double fault brought up a break point for Cornet in the second game, and the former World No.11 took it when an Ostapenko forehand sailed out of bounds, before keeping her focus to fend off a potential fightback at deuce in her next service game.
"Well, I felt Jelena was not feeling super well in the first set but different in the second set," said Cornet afterwards, explaining that she had to be on guard for an Ostapenko comeback. "Her level was rising so I had to be careful. It's very tough to manage that, actually. From the outside it doesn't seem so hard, but with Jelena and her game - the fact that she hits so hard and she can basically put the ball anywhere, can be out, can be in, it's very inconsistent - and the fact that she was not feeling well and calling the physio. I was feeling a bit tight about it, I was getting stressed but I was trying to stay in the moment and stay focused on what I had to do. I'm happy about the attitude I had with this special situation."
That would be the last danger to navigate for Cornet, who would drop only two further points behind her own delivery. Though Ostapenko raised her game - and improved her serve - in the middle section of the second set, the dreaded double faults returned as the former World No.5 served to stay in the match, with an eighth bringing up two match points. Though Ostapenko staved off the first with one of her best backhand winners of the day, the second saw Cornet drag her sufficiently far out wide to draw another forehand error - and to set up a second-round date with No.7 seed Maria Sakkari.
"Definitely I'll get more rhythm tomorrow, so it's not that bad," said Cornet about her next test. "I mean, everybody prefers to have rallies! Maria, she had a really tough match on Monday [saving match point to beat Vitalia Diatchenko]. I saw that she should have lost 10 times - she's a little survivor here in St. Petersburg, so that makes her even more dangerous. She's definitely a very, very tough opponent and a big fighter on court, so I guess we'll be two fighters."