NEW YORK, NY, USA - Petra Martic showed impressive fighting spirit to kick off her first Grand Slam event as a Top 8 seed, dismissing dangerous Czech star Tereza Martincova, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round of the US Open.
"I expected a tough match, because she's a very aggressive and likes this surface, which is playing quite fast this year," she said after the match. "It took me a bit of time to adjust, and I was really happy that after the first set I could find my game and play better. It wasn't easy but I'm glad I managed to get through."
Seeded No.8, Martic is at a career-high ranking of World No.14 and aims to reach the second week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for a second straight year after the two hour and 27 minute victory on Court 11.
"A friend of mine told me the courts were faster this year, and I thought, 'Ok, maybe a little bit,' but when I stepped onto it, I was really surprised. I think everyone is, and is just trying to find their rhythm. I'm happy I had a long match, got to play a lot of tennis and a lot of points. I'm looking forward to the second round, and hopefully there I can start a bit better."
Martincova arrived at the US Open in search of a maiden major main draw win, having pushed former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova to two tie-breaks in Flushing Meadows a year ago, and was quick out of the gate in the opening set, nabbing the first break.
Martic returned to action at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open, where she reached the semifinals, and promptly broke back as she evened the set up at five games apiece. Undaunted, Martincova saved a pair of break points in a crucial 11th game and engineered three set points of her own, converting the third to move within six games of the upset.
There was little to separate the pair heading into the second set, with Martincova striking two more winners (11 to 9) but also two more unforced errors (19 to 17), with Martic's 1/10 break point conversion rate something she'd have to improve heading into the second set.
"I'm trying to really enjoy this, and take it as it goes. I'm happy to be here, but of course, when you step on the court, you want to win as badly as possible. That's something I'm still working on because truthfully there were moments where I wasn't enjoying as much. I was too results-oriented, and that's not a mindset I want to go on court with. For the first match, I'm trying to forgive myself for a few things, but I hope to change that in particular."
The No.8 seed indeed responded with aplomb, triumphing in a titanic first game to break serve at her third opportunity and soon take a double-break advantage at 3-0. Looking to level the match, Martic earned set points with a serve and volley and ultimately forced the decider with a searing forehand winner - her 14th of the set, while Martincova was kept to just four.
"I think it comes down to mindset, because when you have a chance, you have to take it. Otherwise, your opponent will and then the court is too fast for you to defend. It's good for my game and an opportunity for me to improve things I've been wanting to improve. I'm trying to be more aggressive from the first ball, so that's definitely challenging, but I'll try to use the court to my advantage."
The unseeded Czech nonetheless found an opening in the final set, breaking first with a forehand winner of her own to edge ahead by another 3-1 advantage.
Two more tight games went Martic's way and with an aggressive foray to net, the Croat was up a break of her own.
A love hold put her a game from the finish line, and though Martincova ended the run of games against her to force the No.8 seed to serve it out, Martic was unmoved, earning match points with a powerful backhand pass and clinched the win with one last error from the Czech.
In all, Martic struck 35 winners to 45 unforced errors - 10 more winners and one fewer error than Martincova - and broke serve five times in three sets, winning nearly half of points played on return.
Up next for Martic is former World No.29 Kateryna Bondarenko, who also recovered from a set down to defeat American Allie Kiick across the way on Court 12.
"I haven't played her in a long time. We played a long time ago, so there's nothing I can really go back to, but I'll keep trying to find my game, enjoy that it's a Grand Slam, play some good tennis, and see where it gets me."