LEXINGTON, KY, USA -- Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus made her return in the WTA’s resumption a victorious one, as the No.2 seed battled past Madison Brengle of the United States, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, to reach the second round at the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics on Monday.
World No.11 Sabalenka overcame a topsy-turvy second set, where she surged back from 0-4 down to serve for the match at 6-5, only to lose it in a tiebreak. She righted the ship with a well-fought third set to claim the victory over World No.80 Brengle after nearly two-and-a-half hours of play.
"[Brengle] played really well, she moved really well," Sabalenka said during an on-court post-match interview. "It was tough. I just tried to stay in the game, tried to think clean, and fight to the end, like I usually did."
"I was really waiting for tennis to get back," Sabalenka continued. "I was just trying to stay in the tournament, stay in the rallies, stay in the game as long as I can, and I think I did everything I could. Of course I could play better, but I think for the first match, it’s okay."
It was Sabalenka’s second victory in her two meetings with Brengle, having beaten the American in straight sets in the first round of the 2018 Miami Open. Sabalenka, who won her sixth career WTA singles title in Doha earlier this season, had eight aces on the day, and broke Brengle eight times out of 14 break points.
In her next match, Sabalenka will face the winner of an all-American encounter between rising teenager Coco Gauff and qualifier Caroline Dolehide. It will be her first meeting with either player.
Sabalenka quickly went up a break in the opening frame, but very nearly gave it right back, as Brengle used excellent court craft to garner three break points at 2-0. However, the Sabalenka power game got her out of trouble, and she eventually slammed three winners in a row to hold for 3-0.
The Belarusian’s run continued, as she broke Brengle for a 4-0 lead with a blistering backhand winner down the line, then consolidated for 5-0. A love hold by Brengle for 5-1 was not enough to pull the American back into the set, as Sabalenka converted her second set point in the subsequent game with a forehand winner.
But a dramatic momentum shift occurred as the second set commenced, as Brengle gritted her way through a 14-minute game to earn her first break of the match and lead 2-0. The American continued to draw errors from Sabalenka and the Belarusian paid the price, ceding another break to Brengle as she reached 4-0.
However, the Sabalenka backhand began to return to the fore on important points, and she used that wing to convert break points in Brengle’s next two service games, methodically pulling all the way back on serve at 4-3.
After an ace to hold for 5-5, Sabalenka claimed a huge advantage by slamming a return winner to break for 6-5, and she had a chance to serve out the match despite the dire deficit earlier in the set. But miscues, including two double faults, returned in that game, and Brengle pulled level again at 6-6 without facing a match point.
Brengle gained a crucial advantage in the tiebreak after Sabalenka let a passing winner get by her to give the American a 5-4 lead. A netted Sabalenka groundstroke on the next point gave Brengle two chances to tie up the affair, and the unseeded player grabbed the set on the second opportunity after a wide return by Sabalenka.
Sabalenka was nearly broken in the opening game of the decider, but used big serves and forward movement to stave off three break points and hold for 1-0. That fightback spurred on the No.2 seed, as she reeled off five games in a row to build a commanding 5-0 lead in the final set.
Serving for the win at 5-1, Sabalenka missed a match point by firing a forehand unforced error wide, and after that, an excellent passing shot gave Brengle a break point, which she converted. Sabalenka, though, earned two more match points at 5-2, and the third time was the charm as she polished off the victory with a fabulous forehand return winner.