Two Top 10 players scored their first wins of the 2022 season to kick off the Sydney Tennis Classic on Monday, as Paula Badosa and Anett Kontaveit led the charge into the second round.
After a first-round exit last week in Adelaide at the hands of former world No.1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, No.5 seed Badosa edged a tight first set before rolling past former major-winner in Jelena Ostapenko, 7-6(1), 6-1, to take her first win of the season.
Words from the winner: "A match against Jelena is always tough. She's a very, very tough player and you never know how good she can be that day, so I'm really happy with my first win of the year," Badosa said after the match.
"I knew it was a tough match but it's good to start with tough matches at the beginning of the year. You have to get the rhythm fast, so I'm very happy about this win today. Mentally, it was tough at the beginning. When you lose first round like last week, it's never easy even thought it was Vika and she played an amazing level ... I was quite nervous today and for me, it was important. I think mentally, I stuck there until the last moment and I think the first set was key."
Up and running in Sydney 🏃♀️— wta (@WTA) January 10, 2022
🇪🇸 @paulabadosa gets the better of Ostapenko to reach the last 16.#SydneyTennisClassic pic.twitter.com/4ckRn4Ustd
Turning point: Taking the first set after falling behind late proved crucial in Badosa's quest for victory. The two players stayed on serve through the first seven games, but the Spaniard lost six straight points after failing to convert break point at 4-3.
However, Ostapenko never reached set point and Badosa never again trailed in the match.
"I think it's one of the things that gave me a lot of matches last year, to keep fighting now matter what," Badosa said. "Against an opponent like Jelena, she can win 12 points in a row [against you] in two minutes. You have to accept that moment and that's what I did ... and I started to play much, much better."
Badosa won the first four and last three points in a dominant tiebreak performance, and rolled through the last five games of the match.
Anett Kontaveit wins in 2022 debut
Anett Kontaveit ended her 2021 season by winning 29 of her last 34 matches, and the World No. 7 picked up where she left off in her 2022 debut. The No.4 seed in Sydney, Kontaveit needed just 89 minutes to defeat Zhang Shuai in her season debut, 6-3, 6-3.
A late break of Zhang's serve in the first set and an early break in the second helped assure Kontaveit victory. The Estonian lost just 15 points in her nine service games.
Long time, first time: Kontaveit and Zhang played for the first time back in 2015, and the Estonian has now won three of their four career meetings. Monday's win was new ground for her nonetheless: her previous two wins against Zhang came in straight sets, while Zhang won their last meeting in 2019 in Dubai.
Hands up if you won your first match of the year 🙌— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 10, 2022
🇪🇪 @AnettKontaveit_ picks up where she left off at the end of 2021 👏 #SydneyTennis 🔜 #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/MFoEcOvZKE
Petra Kvitova survives Arantxa Rus
The last time tennis was played in Sydney, Petra Kvitova left with the trophy, and in her return, she had to come from a set down to avoid being beaten in the first round.
In a rare match-up between left-handers, Kvitova saved two match points in the final set to overcome Arantxa Rus, 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5, in a shade under three hours. Staring down two match points serving in the 10th game of the final set, Kvitova powered through to win the match's final three games.
"I really had to fight today a lot. I lost my first match in Adelaide and after losing in the beginning of the season, you don't feel the best, and that was my case," Kvitova said.
"I tried to fight and I was trying every point. It was really difficult but somehow, I made it. It's been a long time since I turned a match from match points, so this is something very special."
No foreshadowing from recent history: Monday's match was a far cry from the pair's last meeting at the BNP Paribas Open last October, where Kvitova eased to a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Rus sprinted out of the gates, losing just four points in the first three games, and never faced break point en route to taking the opening set. Later, she rallied from 4-2 down in the second set and had a break point at 4-4 that would've afforded her the opportunity to serve for the match; however, the tide ultimately turned for good in the tiebreak, where Kvitova won the last four points to force a final set.
After the pair traded breaks to start the decider, neither woman faced a break point until Kvitova stared down defeat in the 10th game.
Up next for Kvitova: Kvitova slipped to World No.21 in the latest edition of the WTA rankings this week: her first outside the Top 20 since Feb. 12, 2018. However, she arrives in Sydney with good memories: in addition to the 2019 title, she also raised the trophy in 2015 and reached two further semifinals in 2012 and 2014. She'll next face either No.7 seed Ons Jabeur or Aussie wildcard Astra Sharma for a spot in the last eight.