No.5 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan made a successful tournament debut at the China Open on Monday, defeating Chinese No.1 Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 6-2 in their opening-round match at the WTA 1000 event.
In the last first-round match of the tournament, 2022 Wimbledon champion Rybakina took exactly one hour to oust World No.23 Zheng on her home soil and complete the second-round lineup.
Words from the winner: "First matches, they're always difficult," Rybakina said afterwards. "Last match I played was at US Open, so I was kind of a bit nervous more because I didn't have so many matches in the past few weeks.
"I was feeling well on the practices. I was just trying to focus point by point, focus on my serve, which [isn't affected] by the opponent. I started pretty well the match, so it gave me big confidence for the whole game."
Back to winning ways: Rybakina came into Beijing having not played a match since her third-round loss to Sorana Cirstea at the US Open over a month ago. By contrast, Zheng was coming off a run to the gold medal at last week’s Asian Games.
But any rust Rybakina might have had was quickly shaken off as she eased to yet another victory at a WTA 1000 event. Rybakina has won 24 matches at WTA 1000 events this season, more than any other player on tour. The two titles Rybakina has won in 2023 have been at this tournament level, hoisting trophies at Indian Wells and Rome.
Match breakdown: In their only previous meeting, Rybakina had to survive a tough match with Zheng en route to her Wimbledon title last year. Rybakina powered through a 7-6(4), 7-5 win over Zheng in the third round before capturing her maiden major.
But Rybakina had a much easier time attaining victory this time, where she never faced a break point and won nearly twice as many points as Zheng (54 to 28).
Zheng's 14 winners were double Rybakina's seven in the match, but the Chinese player had 16 unforced errors while a nearly pristine Rybakina only had four.
Rybakina dominated from the beginning, winning the first nine points of the match. Serving down 5-0, Zheng got on the scoreboard at last with a commanding hold, but Rybakina slammed the door on a potential comeback, firing a forehand winner to wrap up the first set.
It was a similar situation in the second set, and Rybakina ended the match the same way she started it, with a love service hold.
Maria awaits: Rybakina will now take on Tatjana Maria of Germany in the second round. It will be the first meeting between Rybakina and Maria -- they nearly met in last year’s Wimbledon final, but Maria fell to Ons Jabeur in a three-set semifinal before Rybakina went on to beat Jabeur in the final.