JURMALA, Latvia - A terrific contest to kick off the inaugural Baltic Open came to an unfortunate end after No.5 seed Margarita Gasparyan was forced to retire trailing Irina Bara 6-4, 4-6, 4-0 after two hours and seven minutes.
Playing her first match since her heartbreaking retirement in the second round of Wimbledon due to cramps while leading eventual semifinalist Elina Svitolina 7-5, 5-6, the Russian took a medical timeout for her leg at 0-3 down in the deciding set, and, stretching her knee between points and visibly hampered in terms of movement, was again unable to complete the match.
Until then, though, the match had been a compelling battle between Gasparyan's power and Bara's counterpunching, with rarely an easy moment for either. Gasparyan made a somewhat tentative start, taking a few games to find her footing and rhythm while Bara maintained impeccable depth on her groundstrokes and mixed up play nicely with canny dropshots. Forcing Gasparyan repeatedly into error and aided by a handful of ill-timed double faults, the World No.213 quickly leapt out to a 4-0 lead.
But the Tashkent champion rose to the challenge superbly to wrest momentum away from Bara. A series of laser-like down-the-line winners gained one of the breaks back, and as Bara served for the set Gasparyan would read a dropshot superbly to get the other back as well.
Indeed, Gasparyan came within two points of levelling the first set in the subsequent game - only to be afflicted by a severe lapse in concentration as she first left a Bara pass that dropped on to the line and then completely mistimed a volley. But although Bara was able to eke out the set, the overall passage of play that saw a free-hitting Gasparyan reel off six out of eight games nonetheless put the World No.57 firmly in the driver's seat at a break up in the second set.
Now, it was Bara's battling qualities that had to come to the fore. In danger of being overpowered, the former World No.139 clung on with superb defensive work, staving off six break points that would have put her down a double break and eventually levelling for 3-3 with a brilliant lob.
It wasn't enough to save the second set - Gasparyan, whose net play had markedly improved, broke again with a backhand volley and sealed the set with a dropshot-pass combination of her own - but Bara had successfully turned the match into a dogfight and rattled her opponent's confidence in her power: Gasparyan ultimatedly tallied 60 unforced errors to 33 winners, while Bara kept a tighter ship with 17 winners to 24 unforced errors.
Though Gasparyan held three game points to hold in the second game of the final set, the Istanbul semifinalist was unable to sufficiently rein in her power - and, ailing physically, began to fall away. A valiant attempt to continue the match after a medical timeout was for nought, given her difficulty in moving - and a game later, it was Bara who moved into the second round of a WTA Tour event for the third time in her career.