Two Grand Slam finalists found their way through tough opening matches late Friday afternoon at the Mutua Madrid Open at the expense of a pair of Americans.
No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova needed to summon all her experience for a comeback victory over tournament debutante Coco Gauff, rallying for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win, before No.11 seed Jennifer Brady scored her first victory since February's Australian Open by eliminating wildcard Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-4.
"We never played so it was definitely a difficult match. I think I didn't start really well, but later in the match, I was finding by game and finding my serve. This was very important in this match because she can also serve very big," Pliskova said in her on-court interview.
"I'm super happy that I'm through. I've played one semifinal here, so I've had a couple of good matches here in the past, but I'm hoping to hopefully improve my game in the next match."
Despite landing over 70 percent of her first serves in the set, Pliskova was slow to adjust to the conditions at the Caja Magica in her first match of the week: serving seven of her nine double faults for the match in the opener, she was broken three times to fall a set behind.
Though she saved two set points while erasing a 5-3 deficit, she was unable to find her best level in the set's closing stages, racking up 26 unforced errors in 13 games in all.
However, the former World No.1's level soon rose in the face of adversity in the second set, as she saved break points in the first game and at 2-2 to stay in front. A break in the sixth game helped Pliskova take a lead she'd never relinquish for the duration of the match, and kicked off a run of seven of the next eight games to her side of the scoreboard.
Unwilling to fade later, Gauff held serve from 0-30 down to get on the scoreboard, and seemed primed to make a late push as the match clock neared two hours. After breaking for the first time since the opener, the teenager had a 40-0 lead on serve for a third straight game, but ultimately lost the last eight points of the match.
Up next, Pliskova will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Madison Keys, 7-5, 6-2. Though the Czech owns a 6-1 head-to-head advantage against the Russian all-time, the two have never played on clay.
In the last first-round match between Gauff's more experienced compatriots, Brady quickly righted proceedings against the legendary seven-time Grand Slam champion after losing serve in an opening game that lasted over 10 minutes.
Trailing 2-1, Brady won five straight games to take a one-set lead — a run that included 13 of 14 points played in that span.
Williams was again the first to break in the second set, winning a titanic game on Brady's serve at 1-1 on her sixth break point, but could not stave off another surge by the World No.14. From 3-1 down, Brady won five of the match's last six games, but her path to the finish was not at all straightforward.
After Williams levels the second set at 4-4, denying Brady the opportunity to win a fourth straight game in the process, she had three break point chances of her own which would've earned her the opportunity to serve for the set. As was the case for much of the 96-minute affair, however — Brady saved 10 of the 13 break points she faced overall — the younger American served her way out of trouble and onto victory.
Brady will next face former French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko in the second round, as the Latvian eased to a 6-3, 6-1 win over Slovenian lucky loser Polona Hercog.