OSTRAVA, Czech Republic - The inaugural J&T Banka Ostrava Open kicked off with a thrilling escape as No.8 seed Anett Kontaveit came from a double break down in the deciding set and saved two match points to survive Ekaterina Alexandrova 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6).
In a first encounter with the Russian, Kontaveit faced an opponent who has garnered a serious reputation as an indoor virtuoso over the past two seasons: Alexandrova had been victorious in 33 of her past 39 matches under a roof, a streak stretching back to October 2018, and today was on the brink to extending it after leading 5-2 in the third set and 6-4 in the deciding tiebreak, having served for the match three times. But bold play from Kontaveit on the biggest points enabled the Estonian to withstand the 33 winners from Alexandrova's racquet and snatch an unlikely victory in two hours and 14 minutes.
"I was so close to being out, so I just tried to stay in the match," said Kontaveit afterwards. "I never really gave up, I tried to be a little more aggressive when I was down - I felt maybe I'd taken a little bit off my shots."
Having hit some of her best shots at the tail end of the last two sets, Kontaveit said afterwards that it had been a reaction to Alexandrova's stellar form. "She was really getting on top of me so I felt I had to push back, and sometimes when you take those risks they pay off," she recalled. "I think it was more adrenaline and instinct, especially at the end of the third - I was behind so badly that I was just trying to stay in it. I thought it was important that I never gave anything to her, she had to earn it to go in front."
From the outset, Alexandrova's comfort on the surface was evident: not only was the World No.33's first-strike tennis in fine fettle on both serve and return, but she was also emerging on top of a number of superb, high-octane exchanges, redirecting Kontaveit's pace to find acute angles and bold line strikes. One such backhand garnered the 25-year-old the first break point of the match in the third game, converted immediately as Kontaveit sent a forehand into the net, and a surging Alexandrova raced to within two points of taking a 4-1 double-break lead.
With her back to the wall, Kontaveit came up with two fine forehands to escape that game, and a mid-set dip from Alexandrova ensued to hand back the break amidst a flurry of errors and fall behind 3-4 instead. But the Shenzhen champion was swift to regain control, with searing down-the-line bangers off both wings breaking Kontaveit again for 5-4 and a forehand winner sealing her second set point a game later.
The second set, though, would see the momentum swing suddenly and emphatically towards Kontaveit. Its first game would be the longest of the match to that point, and Alexandrova would come within millimetres of taking a hard-fought lead after hammering what initially seemed to be crosscourt forehand winner on her fourth break point. But a Hawkeye overrule showed that it had barely missed clipping the line, and a pair of service winners later, it was a relieved Kontaveit who had escaped with the hold.
The 24-year-old pressed home her advantage in fine fashion as Alexandrova's ground game - in particular the forehand - began to go awry. Kontaveit broke immediately for 2-0 with a forehand winner of her own - and though Alexandrova would break back immediately, control had decisively shifted. Kontaveit, upping her first serve percentage from 57% to 77% and on the front foot in baseline rallies, continued to surge, and came up with her best tennis of the day as she wrapped the set up with another break: an eager move to the net paid off handsomely to gain a foothold in the game, and the Australian Open quarterfinalist sealed the second act with a brilliant pinpoint lob at full stretch.
But just as abruptly as momentum had turned in the second set, so it swung back in the decider. Just as in the first game of the previous frame, the set opened with a multi-deuce tussle on the Kontaveit serve, this time ushered in by an ill-timed double fault double fault from the World No.22. This time, though, Alexandrova did not let the opportunity slip, slamming a forehand winner down the line to spark her renaissance.
A spectacular run of nine straight points in the middle of the set - including consecutive 90mph forehand winners to capture the double break - enabled Alexandrova to tighten her grasp on the contest, moving out to a quick 4-1 lead. But this dominant passage of play would bely what was to come as the St Petersburg semifinalist found closing the match out rather more complicated.
Leading 5-2, Alexandrova seemed to have firm control over her game while Kontaveit, making errors even off net cords in her favor, had few ideas in response. But a double fault and sheer carelessness on what should have been a pair of one-two punches squandered Alexandrova's first chance to serve out the win - and two games later, another two double faults took her tally for the day to six before a wild forehand enabled Kontaveit to level the set at 5-5.
Though Alexandrova channeled her frustration effectively into some rather more accurate forehand strikes to break Kontaveit again, the stroke was all too intermittent - and by now, sensing that her own chances were very much alive, Kontaveit had stemmed the flow of her own errors. A phenomenal backhand return winner from the Palermo finalist broke Alexandrova again to force the deciding tiebreak.
This would be decided, for the most part, by errors rather than winners: the Kontaveit backhand initially let her down, but a brilliant defence-into-offence point would begin the turnaround on the fifth point. The former World No.14 would still need to save double match point, with Alexandrova netting a forehand on the first and Kontaveit finding a backhand winner on the second - but, having trailed all the way in the third set, she made no mistake on her first match point, putting away a forehand volley after a thrilling exchange to set up a second-round date with either Magda Linette or qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo.