A hotly-anticipated first-round match between a former Grand Slam champion and the most recent Grand Slam finalist was on the docket Tuesday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and Petra Kvitova delivered a performance worthy of her resume.
The No. 7 seed and World No.10 needed to be at her best on Tuesday to beat unseeded World No.14 and Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, and she certainly was: hitting 27 winners in 92 minutes, Kvitova secured a 6-4, 6-3 victory in her return to the WTA 500 event.
Technically the defending champion this week, having won the last edition played in 2019, Kvitova earned a third win against a Top 20 player in 2021 and improved her head-to-head record against Brady to 3-0.
Kvitova did not have the match entirely her own way, however: she saved break points at 2-2 and 3-3 in the first set, and she eventually secured the first break for either player in the 10th game to forge ahead.
Later in the second set, a six-deuce fourth game with Brady serving proved decisive. Kvitova denied the American four chances to level at 2-2, before breaking for a second time, and dropped just four points on her own serve the rest of the way.
"It was great match and a tough opponent for the first round, for sure," Kvitova said. "At the beginning, it was pretty tight and I think the games which I was serving were really tough, and I think a few times I [was] lucky as well, to be honest.
"I took the chance to break her to win the first set, and that was probably the key that I really went for it more than I was before."
The American saved two match points serving down 5-2, but could not avoid a fourth straight defeat dating back to February's runner-up showing at Melbourne Park.
Kvitova will look to extend her winning streak in Stuttgart to six up next against Greece's Maria Sakkari. The pair have split four career meetings, with Sakkari winning their lone match on clay via retirement at the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome.
"She's definitely a tough opponent, especially on the clay I would say. She really likes it. We played in Rome on clay as well. We played three times already before," Kvitova said.
"She has a great serve for clay as well, a little bit of top spin and she can slice it, she can play drop shots. She can play everything. It will be a very nice and challenging time... but I’m really looking forward for it."
Kvitova was one of two Top 10 players to advance to the second round in Stuttgart on Tuesday. No.5 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the World No.7, needed just 66 minutes to beat China's Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-2.
In victory, the Belarusian more than doubled Zhang's total of winners (23 to 10) and broke serve for times in her first match on clay this season.
"I was doing everything I could in this match. She tried to fight for every point," Sabalenka said.
"The first match [on clay] sometimes can be tricky, so I was just trying to stay focused from the beginning to the end and do my best. I'm happy to get this win... I think my serve helped me a lot in this match."
2021 marks the Belarusian's first appearance in Stuttgart, and up next, she'll face German Anna-Lena Friedsam for a spot in the quarterfinals. The local favorite dropped just two games against Norway's Ulrikke Eikeri in a first-round match between qualifiers, 6-2, 6-0.
"I think I played doubles, a few years ago, against her, but I've never played singles against her," Sabalenka said.
"I saw a little bit of her match yesterday before I went on the practice court. She's a good player who fights for every point, and I'm looking forward to this match."