World No.1 Iga Swiatek showed no signs of rust in her first match of the 2023 season, defeating Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-3 at the United Cup. The victory Saturday gave No.2 seed Poland a 1-0 lead over Kazakhstan, but Timofey Skatov leveled the tie hours later with a 7-6(7), 6-2 win over Daniel Michalski.
With Polish great Agnieszka Radwanska looking on from the captain's box, Swiatek needed just three games before finding the rhythm and range that made her the runaway 2022 Hologic WTA Tour Player of the Year. Putintseva earned an early breakpoint chance in Swiatek's first game, but she coolly erased it with pinpoint accuracy.
"I'm pretty happy with my performance," Swiatek said. "First matches of the season are always rusty. I was happy that in the important moments I was really composed."
Under pressure again while serving at 1-1, 0-30, Swiatek found another gear to reel off 12 consecutive points to build a 4-1 lead. With six unforced errors in the first three games, Swiatek would make just one for the rest of the set, pocketing the set after 27 minutes.
Swiatek underlined her reputation as the tour's preeminent front-runner in the second set. After keeping Putintseva at bay in the early games, Swiatek broke to 3-2 and held her lead to win after 64 minutes. She finished the match with 22 groundstroke winners -- 17 on the forehand alone -- to just five for Putintseva.
The victory extended Swiatek's head-to-head record against Putintseva to 2-0.
Skatov leveled the tie with a grueling win against Michalski. The first set was critical, with long, grinding rallies that led to the match lasting 2 hours and 11 minutes.
“It was a really tough match, but actually my captain’s not happy because he said I played too long,” Skatov said in reference to Kazakhstan playing captain Alexander Bublik, who laughed in the team zone. “Today’s new year and we have to celebrate a bit! But OK, I tried to play as fast as possible.”
World No.142 Skatov saved all five break points he faced against Michalski to earn his first win at the United Cup. The 21-year-old had lost his first No.2 men’s singles match of the week in three sets against Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler.
The tie will continue Sunday evening when Bublik faces Polish star Hubert Hurkacz in the No.1 men’s singles match. Hurkacz leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head series 3-1.
Poland’s Magda Linette will then play crowd favorite Zhibek Kulambayeva in the No.2 women’s singles match before a possible decider in the mixed doubles inside Pat Rafter Arena.
The United Cup is a new mixed-teams event featuring 18 countries across Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Played over two days, ties will be comprised of two ATP and two WTA singles matches and one mixed-doubles match.