ACAPULCO, Mexico -- Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan pulled off a stunning escape in the first round of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC on Tuesday, saving a whopping seven match points at 6-4, 5-4, before overcoming former World No.1 Venus Williams of the United States, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.
The rising 19-year-old, ranked World No.125, notched her first main-draw win of the season after her grueling two-hour and 38-minute comeback victory over two-time Acapulco champion and seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams.
"It’s kind of surreal," said the teenager, who made her Acapulco debut with aplomb, defeating the future Hall of Famer who had claimed back-to-back Acapulco titles in 2009 and 2010.
"I remember the feeling at 5-4 down," Juvan continued. "I was really grateful that I was able to win, and I guess I had a bit more luck."
The combatants finished the tilt with an equal number of winners (28). However, Juvan had eight fewer unforced errors than No.5 seed Williams overall, and after withstanding the series of match points in the second set, Juvan took control in the third set, where she converted three of her five break points while only dropping serve once.
Juvan saved the second match point by overturning an out call with a successful baseline challenge. "The line challenging, it was like in for a millimeter," an excited Juvan stated. "I was going to go to sleep, going to wake up tomorrow, train again. And then it was like, ‘Wait, what? It’s still on?’ And I was like, ‘You gotta take this.’"
Juvan took an early lead after a Williams double fault ceded the first game of the match to the teenager. The Slovene held three points for a 2-0 lead in the very next game, but the Williams power game clicked into gear at that moment, and she fired three sterling forehands to pull to deuce, then got the break back after a forehand miscue by Juvan.
The Slovene went up a break once more at 3-2, and after an easy service hold for 4-2, Juvan had a sturdy lead. However, the veteran Williams stayed steely, and pulled back level at 4-4 after a Juvan dropshot went awry on the second break point of the game.
At 5-4, a scintillating backhand passing winner by Williams fell square on the sideline to give the American triple set point. On the first, Juvan fired a backhand wide, and Williams took the first set from a break down by winning four straight games. With the players having the same amount of unforced errors in the set, Williams’s eight winners to Juvan’s six helped her eke it out.
Juvan led 4-2 in the second set as well, but once again, 39-year-old Williams fought back with stellar aggression and pinpoint accuracy to get the set level at 4-4. After gritting out a service hold for 5-4 after multiple deuces, the American legend found herself one game away from a relatively straightforward scoreline.
No. Quit. 👏— WTA (@WTA) February 26, 2020
Qualifier Kaja Juvan scores the biggest win of her career handing former No. 1 Venus Williams her first Acapulco loss 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2 after saving seven match points.#AMT2020 pic.twitter.com/Xo1zirPPIM
Williams jumped to triple match point at 5-4 after a long error by Juvan, and on the second match point, the Slovene appeared to hit a forehand long, which would have ended the clash. But Juvan challenged the call, and her shot had in fact landed on the baseline, keeping her alive in the match.
Given new life, the teenager proceeded to face and erase five more match points, many of which were dictated by her powerful shots near the lines. Williams countered with her own sterling shotmaking to extend the game as long as she could, but Juvan fought past everything the American threw at her, eventually holding for 5-5 with a brilliant backhand winner down the line.
After that intensity, the duo moved into a tiebreak, where a stirring Williams backhand down the line behind Juvan brought her to 3-3, and a Juvan double fault gave the former World No.1 a 4-3 lead. However, Williams would then fire a series of miscues to cede three points in a row to Juvan, and the Slovene suddenly led 6-4. A netted return on the next point gave Juvan a magical second set.
After an early exchange of breaks in the decider, Juvan repeated her feat from the first two sets, taking a 4-2 lead. She was helped along by three Williams double faults in the 3-2 game -- the third coming on break point via a foot fault.
This time around, Williams was not able to fight back from that deficit. A wide forehand error by the American allowed Juvan to hold for 5-2, and in the next game, the Slovene swiftly moved to triple match point on the Williams serve. Williams fended off one match point, but on the second, a superb Juvan return forced a wide error, completing her incredible comeback.
Juvan will now face her compatriot Tamara Zidansek in an all-Slovenian second-round clash. World No.74 Zidansek dispatched Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya in straight sets in the first round on Monday.