Teenage qualifier Clara Tauson kicked off the Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon by upsetting No.1 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour and 32 minutes.
Alexandrova is a formidable opponent indoors. The Russian has won 36 of her past 44 matches dating back to October 2018, more at WTA level than any other player in that period.
But Tauson, 18, had already defeated the only other Top 50 player she had faced, upsetting Jennifer Brady 6-4, 3-6, 9-7 in the first round of Roland Garros last year. After qualifying this past weekend, she wanted to face one of the main draw's top two seeds.
"I hoped I would play either [Alexandrova] or Fiona [Ferro], because they're two really good players," Tauson said. "I was really happy when I learned I'd get to play her."
Tauson's confidence turned out to be warranted. The 2019 Australian Open junior champion overpowered Alexandrova from every corner of the court, proving more consistent and versatile with her baseline power.
She also held firm as Alexandrova attempted a last-minute comeback from 1-5 down in the second set. Though Tauson would be unable to take triple match point serving at 5-2 or double match point in the following game, the Dane ultimately fired a service winner on her seventh.
"Honestly, I felt like I played really good on my match points," she said afterward. "I wasn't too nervous - she was just playing really deep and hitting winners. What was going through my head was that I was in the lead, and even though I had to serve it out at 5-4 after being broken and having five match points, I still felt like I was in the lead, and I was on the scoreboard. So I was just trying to keep my head calm and to remember I was in front."
Tauson has been on a hot streak since the tour resumption last August, compiling a 35-8 record in that time, and 15-3 in 2021 so far. Though playing opportunities have been fewer, she has already collected two ITF W25 titles this year, in Fujairah and Altenkirchen, and sits at a career high of World No.139 this week. Next up as Tauson bids to reach her first WTA quarterfinal will be Timea Babos, who overcame Varvara Gracheva 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 in 2 hours and 19 minutes.
Elsewhere No.8 seed Arantxa Rus recovered from a 2-5 double-break deficit in the first set to overcome Wang Xiyu 7-6(6), 6-4, avenging a loss to the Chinese 19-year-old in the first round of Abu Dhabi two months ago. Wang had held four set points in their opening stanza, but ultimately conceded it by sending a smash way over the baseline.
Serbia's unseeded Nina Stojanovic caused another upset, defeating No.6 seed Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0 in one hour and 15 minutes.