MIAMI, FL, USA - In one of the most intriguing first round matches at the Miami Open, former French Open finalist Sara Errani survived a tough battle with Former World No.7 Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, to book a second-round clash with No.30 seed Zhang Shuai.
There was more at stake for the pair than just a spot in the second round, though. Bencic came into the matchup with the Italian with a 2-0 lead in the pair's head-to-head record, but trying to halt a downward trend that has seen her win just one WTA match all year, and just two since the 2016 US Open.
And her opponent Errani was also trying to jumpstart her season after toppling out of the Top 100 earlier in the season due to injury woes, including an adductor injury that kept her out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she was the defending champion.
? WTA (@WTA) March 21, 2017
"There was a period that I couldn't play many tournaments," Errani, who was out for a month after the Australian Open, recalled. "Of course, when you're home and there's good tournaments and you can't play it's really tough. It's worse having an injury than losing matches."
"I'm just happy to be here and training and improving my fitness and my game, and just having the opportunity to play again."
Bencic got off to a roaring start under the sun in Miami, pouncing on the Errani serve to break early and build up a 2-0 lead. But once the Italian gained a foothold in the match she came storming back, peppering her tricky game with dropshots to kick the Swiss off guard. After getting the break back, Errani reeled off seven of the next eight games to take the set and open the second with a double break lead.
A strong break to love from the Swiss halted Errani's momentum and galvanized Bencic into action. The 20-year-old turned the tables on Errani, erasing another break to level the set at 3-3. They wrestled for momentum until Bencic notched another break to love to send the match into a decider.
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But despite the strong resistance, Errani got right back on track - Bencic struggled with her serve as Errani broke her four more times, surging to a 5-1 lead. It proved too much to overcome despite Bencic's attempts at a late comeback, and the Italian fired off a dropshot - backed up by a laser accurate passing shot - to take the match after just over two hours.
"I just tried to play every point and be a bit more aggressive with my serve," Errani explained to WTA Insider after the match. "And even on the baseline, try to move her. This was my strategy.
"She has good timing on the ball so she took away time for me to play how I want. But I was physically quite good and I'm happy that I moved good today."
Up next, Errani will take on Zhang for a spot in the third round in Miami.
"She's a really solid girl, she has improved her game a lot in the past years, so it will be another tough match. But I'm just happy to be able to play it."