ROME, Italy - Former semifinalist Anett Kontaveit got off to a winning start in her clay-court return at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Tuesday thanks to a 6-3, 7-6(1) win over Caroline Garcia.
Fresh off a quarterfinal berth at the Western & Southern Open and a fourth-round showing at the US Open, Palermo runner-up Kontaveit returned to the Italian terre battue with a one hour, 38-minute victory over the former Top 10 player, finishing the match in commanding fashion.
Serving for victory twice in the second set, Kontaveit never reached match point at 5-4 or 6-5, but ultimately sealed the win by winning seven straight points in the tiebreak.
"I thought it was a very close match, even in the first set. Until she lost her serve, I felt like it was very close," Kontaveit said after the match.
"We both served well, held serve well and were playing good. I think I served a little bit more consistent, maybe - she served a couple of double faults in the first set and in the second set.
"I served for the match twice and couldn't make any first serves, so she really took initiative well, but I managed to actually get my serve back in the tiebreak and play a really good tiebreak."
After saving two break points in the first game of the match, Kontaveit was dominant on serve in the first set, dropping just three points in four subsequent service games. The Estonian scored the decisive break of serve in the eighth game, and took a one-set lead in just over a half hour.
In the second set, Garcia got off to an early lead by winning the longest game of the match, a four-deuce battle in which she saved two break points of her own.
The set went commandingly with serve from both until the seventh game, in which Kontaveit scored a break to 15 to lead 6-3, 4-3. Another service hold followed to put Kontaveit one game away from victory, but the Frenchwoman did her best to delay Kontaveit's passage into the second round over the ensuing games.
Though both players recorded 19 winners in the match, Kontaveit managed her unforced errors and service percentage better in the windy conditions. Garcia landed just 38 percent of her first serves for the match, and served nine double faults amongst 24 unforced errors. To her credit, Kontaveit served five aces and recorded just 14 unforced.
With a fifth win on clay, the Estonian improved her record in the tour's restart to 10-3, having lost to Naomi Osaka in each of the tour's events in New York in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open and the fourth round of the US Open.
"I feel like playing Palermo definitely gave me the confidence of playing on clay and was not that long ago," Kontaveit said. "I feel like I still have that in my body and remember it well. I think it's coming back very quickly. It has been a quick transition, but I'm doing alright. I feel really good about my game."
Up next, Kontaveit will face two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who earned her first victory of the restart after an opening-round defeat to Eugenie Bouchard last week in Istanbul.
The former French Open champion came from a set and a break down, and a 3-0 deficit in the tiebreak, to beat American Bernarda Pera, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-3.