ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Ekaterina Alexandrova's hot streak showed no sign of abating as the Russian raced to her 16th win in her last 17 matches 6-1, 7-5 in one hour and 20 minutes over No.7 seed Donna Vekic in the second round of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
Alexandrova's excellence has been most evident indoors, where her power game thrives and where she has now won 33 of her last 38 matches - including the last nine in a row - stretching back to October 2018. Indeed, it was at this tournament last year that Alexandrova made her debut in a Premier quarterfinal - a stage she returned to today after avenging one previous loss to Vekic at Budapest 2017.
The 25-year-old has spoken about her fatigue after leading Russia to a Fed Cup Qualifier victory over Romania last weekend in Cluj-Napoca: "Absolutely everything hurts... Fed Cup siphoned off so much mental energy in a matter of just two days," she told Russian press earlier this week. However, after today's match, Alexandrova said her condition had improved. "I'm feeling much better now because I had yesterday a kind of day off - I played doubles, but still," she told reporters. "And my first match [against Daria Kasatkina] was so tough mentally and physically, so I feel much better on the court now." Indeed, there was precious little sign of exhaustion - and much more of overwhelming confidence - during a 22-minute first set in which Alexandrova took everything on at the earliest possible opportunity.
Hammering her returns from the outset garnered the Shenzhen champion an immediate break of the Vekic serve - the first of seven over the course of the match as the Croat found her delivery under constant siege. A rattled Vekic would drop her serve to love twice more in the opening set, striking seven unforced errors to only two winners and coughing up her second double fault down set point.
By contrast, Alexandrova was impregnable on serve: a modest 50% first serve percentage would not cost her as she maintained an identical winning percentage, 67%, behind both first and second deliveries. Finding particular joy with the off forehand one-two punch to wrongfoot Vekic, the World No.28 would not face a break point in the opening act.
The match would take on a different tone as last year's runner-up adjusted her tactics and began to scrap hard. Attacking the Alexandrova second serve paid dividends, and gave the home player a taste of her own medicine - but the home player was still dishing out the same treatment to Vekic, and consequently the second set opened with four straight breaks of serve.
With momentum delicately poised, Alexandrova seemed to have emerged from this passage of play on top after clutch serving fended off two more break points in the fifth game and she sent down her first ace of the day to take a 3-2 lead. But the US Open quarterfinalist displayed even more grit to buckle down and break Alexandrova at 4-4, taking her fourth break point after a top-quality mini-tussle featuring brilliant shotmaking from both sides.
Yet the set had one last plot twist: Vekic, serving at 5-4, 30-30, ballooned a wild backhand way out of bounds, and found the net with another as Alexandrova levelled the scoreline again. The same wing again let the 23-year-old down badly at the same stage of the next game: with the whole court open at 30-30, Vekic's backhand again found the net.
Alexandrova said afterwards that she had been ready for the twists and turns of the second set, even after sailing through the first. "Every time you play fast like the first set, you know for sure that the second set won't be so fast, so you need to be prepared," she said. "But I was lucky in the end, because there were a couple of points that I was sure she was gonna win, but somehow, I don't know, the net or the ball was on my side."
The final game of the match would be a gripping affair: putting the past two games behind her, it was Vekic's turn to come up with clutch serving as she staved off three match points. But Alexandrova was sticking to her guns: having fired two clean return winners in the game already to take her overall total to 19, the crowd favorite would successfully get hold of two Vekic serves in a row, landing deep returns that elicited the error and seizing her fourth match point.
Alexandrova's reward will be a rematch with the only player to have defeated her since November: No.3 seed Petra Kvitova, who ended her Australian Open campaign last month in the third round. Looking ahead, she said that she is motivated to keep her winning streak going - and hopes that she has learned some lessons from that 6-1, 6-2 defeat. "Every match won just feels amazing and you just want to continue in a row," enthused Alexandrova. "But it'll be tough, the next one, because Petra is a top player and I remember when we played in the Australian Open, it was so fast, like 50 minutes or so and it was done, and I couldn't say what happened - so I hope I can fix all the mistakes I made in that match. I want to believe I learned some lessons and I want to improve myself, so we'll see."