INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva took the honors in an intergenerational clash in the first round of the Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells, dismissing 18-year-old Wang Xiyu 6-4, 6-1 in one hour and five minutes.
The 35-year-old Russian, who captured the biggest title of her career at the Indian Wells Premier Mandatory event in 2011, redirected the pace of her teenage opponent with ease throughout, relentlessly aiming traffic at the Wang backhand. The Chinese teenager, fresh off reaching her maiden WTA semifinal in Acapulco last week and at a career high of World No.106 this week, was unable to find a sustained response; although she landed enough of her left-handed forehand missiles to briefly threaten a comeback as she got an early break back to level the first set at 4-4, Zvonareva would rattle off eight straight points to take the opening act anyway.
Thereafter, Wang fell away, overpressing with her forehand when she was able to hit it, as a focused Zvonareva raced through the rest of the match without facing another break point - while taking all five that she brought up on the Wang serve. The two-time Grand Slam runner-up, ranked World No.319 after being sidelined for eight months following last year's Roland Garros due to a wrist injury, now has a 4-3 record since returning last month - and has set up a tantalizing second-round clash between former Top 5 players in the next round as she faces No.15 seed Samantha Stosur.
Elsewhere, the longest match of the day saw 's-Hertogenbosch and Lausanne quarterfinalist Natalia Vikhlyantseva battle back from the brink of defeat to overcome Anhelina Kalinina 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in two-and-a-half hours exactly. The Russian had been unable to serve the second set out at 5-3 and missed a set point on Kalinina's serve at 6-5, and it seemed as though she would rue those opportunities when she fell behind 3-5 in the tiebreak - but Vikhlyantseva would reel off four straight points to level the match before pulling away in the decider.
Meanwhile, there was another dramatic comeback from 2018 Moscow River Cup champion Olga Danilovic as the 19-year-old roared back from a 1-6, 0-2 deficit to edge Veronica Cepede Royg 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 59 minutes - but Harriet Dart survived a similar attempted fightback from 2017 Wimbledon girls' finalist Ann Li to move into the second round 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-1. Though the first set had been closer than the scoreline suggests, with the last five games all going to deuce (and Dart winning four of those), the Briton dominated the decider, winning nine of Li's 10 second serve points and winning 88% of her own first serves.
Li's loss marked a poor start to the tournament for American teenagers, who would go 0-4 overall on the first day of action. Dart's compatriot Katie Boulter, on the comeback from a back injury that sidelined her for six months last year, moved past 18-year-old wildcard Hailey Baptiste 7-5, 6-3, while former World No.12 Yanina Wickmayer dispatched 19-year-old wildcard Claire Liu - Li's conqueror in the 2017 Wimbledon junior final - for the second time in 2020, this time posting a 6-1, 6-4 scoreline. In addition, an all-American derby found Sachia Vickery defeat 18-year-old Washington semifinalist Catherine McNally 6-2, 6-3 in just one hour and 16 minutes.
Strike a pose, @SachiaVick 👀— Oracle Challenger Series (@OracleChallngrs) March 2, 2020
Back into the Oracle Challenger Series winner's circle she goes, knocking off compatriot Caty McNally in dominating fashion 6-2, 6-3. #RoadtoIndianWells pic.twitter.com/rOCfS55YXQ