GUANGZHOU, China - Made to wait to kick off her Guangzhou International Women's Open campaign by rain which held up the afternoon's play, No.1 seed Elina Svitolina wasted no time once on court, coming from an early break down to post a 6-3, 6-3 win over lucky loser Dalila Jakupovic in one hour and nine minutes.
"I had to be very composed with my game plan," revealed Svitolina afterwards. "It was very humid and hot - I didn't want to spend too long out there, I tried to save some energy after the tough matches in Zhengzhou."
Making her debut in the Guangdong province's capital, Svitolina served impeccably, winning 81% of the points behind her first delivery, and was sharp on important points as she reeled in an opponent who has seen her ranking slide out of the Top 100 this year.
Jakupovic came into the tournament having compiled just a 4-15 win-loss record in 2019 at WTA main draw level, and 11-29 overall - but, belying this slump, came blazing out of the gates. Sensing that Svitolina, who is coming off the US Open semifinals and Zhengzhou quarterfinals in preceding consecutive weeks, had yet to find her rhythm, Jakupovic fizzed a pair of forehand winners down the line en route to an immediate break and a 2-0 lead.
In turn, the World No.3 swiftly realised that she would need to assert her authority somewhat, and did so by upping the pace on both groundstrokes and serve. Three consecutive service winners got Svitolina on the board, and an off forehand winner captured the break back.
Thereafter, Svitolina tightened her grip on the match relentlessly as the Slovenian World No.151 began to hit out wildly. With the WTA Finals champion racking up the aces and impregnable from the baseline, Jakupovic buried herself in errors to fall behind another break, and three games later Svitolina had sealed the opening set with a fifth ace.
More errant backhands conceded Jakupovic's first service game of the second set; although the 28-year-old had an immediate 0-40 advantage in her opponent's next service game, four break-back points would go begging as Svitolina found her first serves and tracked down Jakupovic's desperate dropshots.
From there, Svitolina progressed smoothly into a 4-1 lead, whereupon a sudden flurry of double faults made closing out the match rather more complicated. The 25-year-old would extricate herself from a two-deuce tussle without facing a break point to go up 5-1, but when she squandered her first match point with a fifth double fault, Jakupovic made her pay, firing a forehand bullet down the line to stay alive.
Nonetheless, the former World No.69 still could not find the consistency to mount a full comeback - while Svitolina gathered herself to lash out with her own forehand, ultimately taking her third match point as another Jakupovic backhand found the net. Up next for the Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist will be Marie Bouzkova, who had saved four consecutive match points against local qualifier Xun Fang Ying to win 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(6) in the first round.
"She has a very tough game," noted Svitolina, who had observed the 21-year-old Czech during her breakout run to the Toronto semifinals. "She gets a lot of balls back, so I have to be sharp with my game."
In other first-round action, wildcard Peng Shuai shocked No.2 seed and defending champion Wang Qiang 7-5, 6-2 in an all-Chinese derby. Former World No.14 Peng is beginning to round into form after a year beset by injuries, having also reached the semifinals last week in Nanchang, and the current Chinese No.1 - despite coming off a career-best major after reaching the US Open quarterfinals - was no match. The result means that No.4 seed Zhang Shuai is the only former champion remaining in the draw after the 2013 and 2017 victor dispatched Kateryna Kozlova 6-2, 6-4.
Meanwhile, No.3 seed Sofia Kenin reprised her US Open win over Laura Siegemund, progressing 6-4 6-2 this time around, but No.6 seed Zheng Saisai had to save a match point against wildcard Duan Yingying before overcoming her doubles partner and compatriot 6-7(5), 7-6(3), 6-1. Also needing to battle hard was qualifier Katarina Zavatska; the 19-year-old Ukrainian scored an arduous career-best win over Lausanne champion Fiona Ferro 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-4 in three hours and 27 minutes - the longest WTA main draw match of 2019 to date.
However, there were easier routes to the second round for No.5 seed Katerina Siniakova and New Haven 125K champion Anna Blinkova, whose opponents were both forced to retire. Siniakova led Nanchang runner-up Elena Rybakina 6-1, 3-1 before the Kazakh pulled out with a left thigh injury, while Blinkova had bounced back from losing the first set to lead Sara Sorribes Tormo 2-6, 6-1, 4-1 before a right foot injury curtailed the Spaniard's campaign.