No.7 seed Victoria Azarenka triumphed in a throwback rivalry over wildcard Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 7-6(2) in the first round of the bett1open, saving three set points in the second set.
The pair of former Top 10 players had clashed three times between 2010 and 2013 with Azarenka winning twice, but this marked their first meeting in eight years. It was narrowly contested to the end, with the Belarusian needing to overturn a 3-5 deficit in the second set to progress.
"I was sometimes dropping my level a bit with not being aggressive enough," said Azarenka afterwards. "I was getting too frustrated in some moments when I had opportunities and didn't take them, so I want to learn from that for my next round. I think I was putting myself into too much of a dangerous situation when I could have been more disciplined."
Azarenka found herself embroiled in a succession of high-octane baseline exchanges with Petkovic, who kept her intensity high throughout the match and struck 26 winners to 36 unforced errors. The German entered the match with just a 2-7 record at WTA main draw level in 2021, but she has twice taken a Top 20 player to three sets this season - Sofia Kenin in Miami and Karolina Muchova at Roland Garros - and very nearly did so again.
US Open finalist Azarenka edged a tight opening set by finding a superb forehand winner down the line on her fourth set point, but Petkovic continued to press throughout the second. The World No.129 went up a break three times, and on each occasion Azarenka needed to find some of her deepest and most accurate returns to break back.
The Belarusian's serve was also there when she needed it. Serving at 5-6 in the second set, she saved three set points with unreturnable deliveries, including one of her eight aces, before dominating the ensuing tiebreak.
Afterwards, she spoke about the quick transition from clay to grass having certain benefits.
"It's a really good way of getting right into the matches," said Azarenka. "To find the rhythm in more difficult situations, it's maybe better than practicing for a longer time. Matches always show where your level is at."
Kudermetova, Samsonova hold off Czech comebacks
Czech-Russian clashes are clearly all the rage this month.
Unlike Roland Garros finals weekend, which saw Czechs Barbora Krejcikova and Linda Noskova claim the women's and girls' singles titles respectively over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Erika Andreeva, the first round of Berlin saw victories for Russia.
A stellar three-setter saw Veronika Kudermetova overcome No.8 seed Muchova 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-2 in two hours and 27 minutes, while qualifier Liudmila Samsonova scored her second Top 50 win of the year 6-4, 7-6(6) over Marketa Vondrousova.
Neither win was straightforward. In a match that saw both players coming to net whenever possible, Kudermetova's level was scintillating at times. The World No.32 conjured 50 winners to Muchova's 25, and led almost throughout each set.
But sustaining her form to hold on to those leads was more of a struggle for Kudermetova. She failed to serve out a 5-3 lead in the first set after coughing up a double fault and some errant forehands, and subsequently squandered her first eight set points. On the ninth, though, Kudermetova managed to flick a perfect dropshot to get over the line.
The same pattern repeated throughout the second set. Kudermetova went up a break three times and served for the match at 5-4. However, a combination of her own level dropping and Muchova's bold shotmaking meant that the Czech was able to bounce back each time. Muchova would make the most of her lifeline, winning three straight games to force a decider.
Despite the fluctuations that had preceded it, Kudermetova showed tremendous fortitude to dominate the third set. Having successfully captured the double break, she made no mistake in closing out the match this time, sealing victory with a fine backhand volley.
Afterwards, Kudermetova said that her third-round loss at Roland Garros to another Czech, Katerina Siniakova, had been on her mind. There, she had been 5-1 up in the third set and held two match points before falling 7-6(7), 5-7, 7-5.
"I don't know how to explain it but at the French Open I lost a very close match," said Kudermetova. "I was 5-1 up, 5-2 up in both sets and I lost. Today I was a little bit thinking about it when I was up and serving. Mentally, it's not really easy because I think and think about my serve. But I am really happy I stayed in the match in the third set."
Kudermetova will next play compatriot Samsonova, who also survived a late-stage comeback to progress. The World No.106 was seemingly in full control, having overpowered Vondrousova to build a 6-4, 4-0 lead.
The 2019 Roland Garros runner-up continued to battle hard, and Samsonova's radar began to go awry as she dropped five games in a row. But just in time, Samsonova gathered herself to force a tiebreak, which she edged on her second match point as Vondrousova sent a backhand long.