PALERMO, Italy - No.8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova was made to fight back from a set down to defeat Kristina Mladenovic and move into the second round at the Palermo Ladies Open.

On the opening day of WTA main draw play after the coronavirus suspension began in March, Alexandrova and Mladenovic were locked into battle for two hours and 12 minutes, with the first set alone lasting 59 minutes with nine breaks of serve. But after dropping the opener, Shenzhen Open champion Alexandrova found another level to score a decisive comeback - losing just one further game en route to a 5-7, 6-0, 6-1 victory.

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“It feels really great [being back on court] because it was such a long wait, and it felt really special,” Alexandrova told after the match. 

“But the first match, it was quite tough because I was so nervous and my serve in the first set was just awful. Thankfully in the second and third it was much better.”

2020 Palermo highlights: Alexandrova comeback ousts Mladenovic

The match opened on a run of six consecutive breaks of serve, with Alexandrova taking the early lead and Mladenovic leveling the score each time, staying toe-to-toe through 3-3. It was the Frenchwoman who managed the first service hold, and she seemed to have found her groove as she saved a set point on Alexandrova’s serve at 5-4 to stay in the contest. 

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Mladenovic took her first lead of the match as she edged ahead with another break, taking the opening set in a tight 7-5 battle.

“My serve is helping me a lot, so when I feel confident on my serve I feel more calm in the match,” Alexandrova explained. 

The Russian had won only one point on her second serve, and hit six double faults in the first set - in the last two sets, she improved to hit just one double fault and saved all three break points faced.

“I think the first set I was just so nervous, but after it I was like: ‘It doesn’t matter right now. I just want to play and enjoy this moment.’ I think that helped me.”

Photo by Jimmie48 Photography/WTA

Despite winning the opener, there were already signs of trouble for Mladenovic in the form of nine double faults in the first set, out of 20 total that she would accumulate during the match. Alexandrova took advantage of the opportunities and kept the Frenchwoman under pressure, and she was rewarded with an impressive run of six games on the trot to win the second set to love. 

With both players level at a set apiece, Alexandrova stayed solid against Mladenovic’s all-court prowess. She reeled off another six games in a row to complete the comeback and seal the victory after two hours and 12 minutes on court. 

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Into the second round in her Palermo debut, Alexandrova awaits the winner between Fiona Ferro and Argentinean qualifier Nadia Podoroska.