ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.5 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain emerged the victor in an intriguing first-round battle at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Thursday, as she defeated former Top 10 player Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-2, 6-4 in her first match of the season.

Former World No.1 Muguruza had lost two of her three previous meetings with Mladenovic, but the Spaniard had claimed a straight-set win in their most recent match, on the hardcourts of Monterrey in 2019. Muguruza is now level in her head-to-head record against Mladenovic after her 98-minute win this time around.

"I feel like I started by getting used to the wind and the court, so I started a little bit not hitting the ball properly, moving a little bit weird, just getting my feet together," said Muguruza, during her post-match press conference. "[Mladenovic] played well, she took the advantage, and then I started to feel a little bit better, and I turned the score around."

"I was trying to do my game, dominating, not letting her dominate the point," Muguruza continued. "It’s the first match of the year, it’s a little bit tricky to get the feeling, but I’m happy with the win."

Two-time major champion Muguruza completed the match with 17 winners, five more than Mladenovic, and the Spaniard converted five of her 11 break points on the day. Mladenovic could only go 2-for-10 on break points during the match, and was undone by 11 double faults, including five in the final game of the tilt.

"It’s tricky with this surface, I feel like everyone now is starting to go to that side of the game, very aggressive," Muguruza added. "So, it’s sometimes hitting the ball hard, and getting it a little bit earlier than the other one, putting on the pressure."

The victory continues a run of recent good form for Muguruza in the Middle East. Muguruza made back-to-back quarterfinals in the region last year at Doha and Dubai, just weeks after her run to another major final at the 2020 Australian Open.

Mladenovic opened the match with a service break and a quick hold as the Frenchwoman leapt to a 2-0 lead, but that would be the extent of her winning ways in the first set, as Muguruza turned the opening frame around. The Spaniard saved a break point in the third game with a backhand winner down the line, eventually getting on the scoreboard with powerful play.

Having narrowly avoided going down a double-break, Muguruza started to wrest control of the set with pinpoint groundstrokes, and used an error-forcing return to get back on serve at 2-2. The Spaniard’s streak continued as she used a winning forehand down the line to earn another break point at 3-2, and she obtained the conversion for 4-2 after Mladenovic misfired on the volley.

A third break came Muguruza’s way to close out the set, after Mladenovic slammed her fifth double fault on the second set point she faced at 5-2, handing Muguruza a sixth straight game. After falling behind the early break, Muguruza converted three of her five break points to romp to the one-set lead.

In the second set, Mladenovic had three break points at 2-2, and three more at 3-3. The Frenchwoman converted the last of that sextet with a rally forehand winner, moving ahead 4-3 in the set. However, Mladenovic quickly fell behind 0-40 in the very next game, and although she drew back to deuce, Muguruza triumphed on her fourth break point of the game to pull back on serve.

Muguruza used an ace and an error-forcing backhand to stave off two more break points in the subsequent game, and after two powerful forehands, the former World No.1 had held once more despite having her back against the wall early in the game.

Serving to stay in the match at 5-4, Mladenovic saw a 40-0 lead disappear, and her second double fault of the game gave Muguruza an initial match point. Muguruza sent a forehand long, missing her first chance, but Mladenovic then fired three more double faults in a row to cede another break to her opponent and hand the win to the Spaniard.

World No.15 Muguruza will now take on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round. The Belarusian moved past Hungarian qualifier Anna Bondar in straight sets earlier on Thursday to book a second-round clash with the Spaniard.

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