2018 Miami Open champion Sloane Stephens earned her first win of the season the hard way.
Staring down a fifth loss in five matches played in 2021 on Wednesday night at the event she won three years ago, Stephens battled back admirably from a 7-6(6), 4-3 deficit to defeat French qualifier Oceane Dodin, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2, to reach the second round.
Having failed to hold onto a break lead at 4-2 in the first set, and losing out on two set points at 6-4 in the ensuing tiebreak, the American escaped from a 15-40 deficit on serve in a crucial eighth game of the second to buoy a comeback efforts under the lights at the WTA 1000 event.
"It was a great match and she played really well by playing some good matches and some good tennis. It's been a rough one for me lately, so I'm really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow," Stephens said on-court after the match.
"I've been practicing a lot lately, and throughout this past year... there have been so many times where I was like, 'I can't do this. I want to quit. I want to give up,' and I think it's not quite time yet. I think I still have a lot of tennis left in me.
"I'm just happy to battle through and to find my way back to where I want to be."
As the two hour, 21-minute contest wore on, the American displayed some of her vintage best, transitioning defense against Dodin's blistering groundstrokes into offensive power off of her forehand side. From 2-1 down in the decider, Stephens ran off five straight games and never faced break point to seal her first win since the first round of the French Open last September.
Breaking Dodin's serve seven times in all, Stephens struck 21 winners to 26 unforced errors in victory, while Dodin racked up 52 unforced errors to just 19 winners.
With losses by Kristina Mladenovic and Fiona Ferro in the day session and Dodin's defeat at night, Frenchwomen nonetheless had better fortunes in the form of veterans Alizé Cornet and Caroline Garcia, who boasted contrasting, but safe, passage through to round two.
Cornet was the first to book a spot in the next round thanks to a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 comeback victory over two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, fresh off a run to the semifinals on home soil at the St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy last week.
The two boast a longstanding head-to-head history dating back to 2008, but it was the former World No.11 Cornet who edged ahead 4-3 all-time against the Russian. The two hour, 11-minute three-setter was the first match between the two to go the distance since 2014.
Elsewhere, it was much easier for former World No.4 Garcia, who needed just 64 minutes to beat Romanian qualifier Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-1, 6-2, and advance to a second-round meeting with No.3 seed Simona Halep.
Rounding out Wednesday's news, three-time winner and No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka moved through to the third round without hitting a ball, as Germany's Laura Siegemund withdrew from both singles and doubles late Wednesday due to a right knee injury.
The pair were slated to play on Thursday, but instead, Azarenka now awaits either a fellow Grand Slam champion in No. 24 seed Angelique Kerber, or Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua, who beat Japan's Nao Hibino earlier on Wednesday, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
Thursday's slate of matches will also see World No.1 and 2019 Miami champion Ashleigh Barty in action against Slovak qualifier Kristina Kucova, a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 winner over fellow qualifier Hailey Baptiste of the United States in a two hour, 29-minute marathon that ended just before 10 p.m. on Wednesday night.
In addition, Halep takes on Garcia, while No.5 seed Elina Svitolina, No.7 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No.9 seed Petra Kvitova will all play their first matches of the tournament.