For the first time in more than a year, former World No.3 Elina Svitolina was back on court on Monday in the first round of the Credit One Charleston Open.
Yulia Putintseva, the World No. 47 and a two-time quarterfinalist in Charleston, rallied for a 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-4 win in 2 hours, 46 minutes -- just her third win in nine career matches against Svitolina, and her first since 2012.
The 28-year-old Svitolina hadn't played on the Hologic WTA Tour since last March after a combination of injury and pregnancy. In October, she gave birth to her daughter, Skaï, with husband and ATP pro Gael Monfils.
Thank you everyone for all your sweet messages 🥰— Elina Monfils (@ElinaSvitolina) April 4, 2023
I really appreciate your support ❤️
Thank you @CharlestonOpen for this opportunity to make my comeback at your beautiful tournament and for your support of my foundation and the Ukrainian people. I will be back!❤️💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/Y8b3JqGlFZ
How the match was won: Eight years after their last clay-court meeting, and more than a decade after the two one-time junior rivals played for the first time as professionals, Putintseva and Svitolina played a marathon three-setter for a fourth time.
Showing no signs of rust in a 70-minute opening set, Svitolina led by a break twice early on -- but later, saved set point in the 10th game and came from 3-1 down to win the last six points of the tiebreak and wrap up a one-set lead.
Svitolina's energy levels dipped in the second set and Putintseva's game plan of getting the Ukrainian moving with deft drop shots at every available opportunity found more and more success. She broke Svitolina twice in the second set, and three times in the third set, to finish off the come-from-behind victory.
Svitolina's trademark fighting spirit was on display in the final set, though. She twice pegged Putintseva back even from a break down before eventually running out of steam. In the final game, Putintseva carved out two inch-perfect backhand drop shots -- one at break point and the other on match point.
Up next: Putintseva will be the first opponent for No.7 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, who just reached the quarterfinals at the Miami Open. The two have never played.
Former champ Stephens advances
Elsewhere, there were better fortunes for Sloane Stephens, the player Svitolina beat to win the WTA Finals in 2018. Stephens, the 2016 champ in Charleston, came from a set down to defeat fellow American Louisa Chirico 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the last match of the day session.
Stephens will face former World No.1 and No.6 seed Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday.
All four completed matches on Credit One Stadium went the distance. Linda Fruhvirtova opened play with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 win over No.14 seed Jil Teichmann, while Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov was a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 winner over Hobart champion Lauren Davis.
After Stephens' win, Monday night's session was interrupted by rain. The first-round match between Sofia Kenin and Aliaksandra Sasnovich was halted twice, before being officially pushed to Tuesday as a result of a third rain delay with Kenin leading 6-1, 6-7(5), 3-0. The match that was expected to cap Monday's slate of play, Caroline Dolehide vs. former champion Sabine Lisicki, was also postponed.