No.5 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was a 7-6(3), 6-1 victor over qualifier Ana Konjuh in one of the most intriguing first-round clashes at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open.
The Russian had won their only previous encounter, also on indoor hard courts, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of Moscow 2014. That match took place when Konjuh was a 16-year-old rookie on tour; seven years on, both players have experienced the full spectrum of peaks and troughs in their careers, but arrived in Ostrava off the back of positive seasons.
Unranked one year ago, Konjuh's return from her fourth elbow surgery has seen the Croat rise back to World No.77 this week. Crucially, she has now played 61 matches this year (with a 40-21 win-loss record) without suffering recurring pain. Meanwhile, Pavlyuchenkova, reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in May, a decade after playing her first major quarterfinal there as a teenager. This week, the 30-year-old matched the career-high ranking of World No.13 she first set in July 2011.
Stat corner: A contest between two of the biggest hitters in the draw saw a plethora of electrifying, high-octane baseline battles, particularly in a knife-edge first set. But while Konjuh ultimately tallied more winners, 16 to Pavlyuchenkova's 14, her unforced error count outpaced her opponent more significantly - 36 to 22.
Throughout the match, Pavlyuchenkova's heavy strikes had more inbuilt safety to them, with Konjuh more frequently making mistakes off routine rally balls or low-percentage winner attempts. Pavlyuchenkova also displayed superior defence, tracking down some of Konjuh's fiercest blows and ultimately eliciting errors from the Croat's racquet.
Match management: Pavlyuchenkova's defence was crucial to winning one of the best and most important points of the day. There had been nothing to choose between the pair through a first set in which both protected their serves efficiently: the only break point had been a set point for Pavlyuchenkova at 5-4, saved when she sent a backhand long.
Trailing 0-2 in the ensung tiebreak, Pavlyuchenkova had to race from corner to corner to retrieve an onslaught of Konjuh power - but worked herself back into the rally and finished it with a brilliant backhand winner. She would dominate the remainder of the tiebreak, winning her first set point with a canny dropshot.
The first game of the second set also proved significant. Konjuh found some of her finest winners to save four break points, but netted a backhand on the fifth. Thereafter, she fell away as Pavlyuchenkova raced to the finish line, only avoiding the bagel thanks to one loose service game from the seeded player midway through the set.
Putintseva saves match point, wins seventh-longest match of 2021 over Zhang
Earlier, Yulia Putintseva triumphed in a titanic 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-4 battle over Zhang Shuai after three hours and 24 minutes - the seventh-longest match of the season so far.
The Kazakh, who was a semifinalist in Portoroz last week, was unable to close out the first set from 5-3 up: Zhang saved two set points en route to breaking back for 5-5 after a seven-deuce tussle, one of several epic games within the epic match.
The Chinese No.1 sustained her momentum well. With her backhand clicking in particular, she won nine out of 11 games from 3-5 down in the first set to take a 5-2 lead in the second. But the tenacious Putintseva can never be counted out.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Zhang squandered a match point after netting a backhand, and also saw a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak evaporate as Putintseva clung on, ultimately levelling the match on her third set point.
Zhang essayed one last stand in the third set, coming from 1-3 down to lead by 4-3 with the break, but even this wasn't enough. Putintseva was stronger at the finish, taking 12 of the last 16 points and sealing her second match point as Zhang sent a backhand wide.
Putintseva will next face an intriguing first-time encounter with No.1 seed Iga Swiatek, who received a bye into the second round.