GSTAAD, Switzerland -- Mona Barthel of Germany was the first main draw winner at the 2018 Ladies Championships Gstaad by Ixion Services, moving past Russia's Natalia Vikhlyantseva, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the opening round on Monday.
"I didn’t have a good start, I was 0-3 down, and then I got better and better into the match," Barthel told the media, after the three-set tussle. "Then [Vikhlyantseva] played a really good second set, but I just tried to stay calm, and just waiting for my chances in the third. Then I think I played a good third set."
28-year-old Barthel, a former World No.23 who is currently ranked No.118, had seven aces and broke Vikhlyantseva five times during the match to maneuver past the 21-year-old Russian, winning the first meeting between the combatants in one hour and 42 minutes.
"We never played before, and I think she’s a very powerful player, a big serve and very big groundstrokes," said Barthel. "So I knew I had to be serving well, moving well and getting a lot of balls back, and that was what I was trying to do."
Barthel said that the transition from the grass of Great Britain back to the clay courts "was quite easy for me" this year. "I didn’t think a lot about it, I just went on the court and I just played," Barthel stated.
"It’s a little bit different also here [in Gstaad] because of the altitude, that’s also something you have to get used to. But this year it went pretty smooth. I think maybe sometimes it’s best if you don’t think too much about it!" Barthel exclaimed with a laugh.
After falling behind an early break, Barthel started to move Vikhlyantseva around the court with ease, extracting mistakes from the powerful Russian and pulling back on serve at 3-2 after Vikhlyantseva netted a backhand error. Barthel then tied the set at 3-3, closing out a multiple-deuce game with an ace to pull level.
The German used her solid backhand to reach break point again in Vikhlyantseva’s next service game, and good scrambling by Barthel on that point paid off when she deployed a drop shot which forced an error from the Russian, putting Barthel up a break for the first time at 4-3.
Barthel held for 5-3 with another ace on game point, and though Vikhlyantseva held her own serve in the next game to end a five-game winning streak for Barthel, the momentum stayed with the German. Serving for the set, Barthel held at love to take the 6-4 lead.
Barthel continued to be in command of the match at the beginning of the second set, going up an early break for 2-1 after taking Vikhlyantseva’s serve at love via a screaming return winner. After holding at love for 3-1, the German had won ten straight points, and victory seemed to be in her sights.
At that juncture, however, World No.103 Vikhlyantseva turned the entire set on its ear. The Russian broke Barthel to tie the set at 3-3 following some poorly-timed unforced errors by the German, and saved a break point against her in the next game, eventually taking a 4-3 lead with a backhand winner down the line.
Barthel faltered heavily in the next game, dropping serve at love with three unforced errors off the ground plus a double fault. Vikhlyantseva did not squander her subsequent chance to serve out the set at 5-3, leveling the match at one set apiece after winning five games in a row.
But in the deciding set, Barthel recovered the technique that pushed her into the Top 25 of the WTA singles rankings in 2013. Barthel claimed a crucial break to lead 3-1, and powered through the following service game to clinch a massive 4-1 lead.
Barthel added extra height and depth to her groundstrokes, and the ensuing kick led Vikhlyantseva to make more errors. Serving to stay in the match at 5-2, Vikhlyantseva struggled with those shots -- as well as with two of her ten double faults -- and on the third break point of the game, the match fell in favor of Barthel after a long forehand error by the Russian.