BEIJING, China - Defending champion Caroline Garcia needed over three hours to outlast Wang Yafan in a titanic opener at the China Open on Sunday, eventually winning 7-6(10), 6-7(4), 6-3 to move into the second round.
The World No.4 and Chinese wildcard split the first two sets, each of which lasted over an hour, before Garcia held off an upset bid from the World No.78 in the decider to win the match in three hours and two minutes.
"I wanted this win. I wanted a chance to improve in the next match, after it's very close to win it or lose [this one]. Of course, if I will have lose that one, that would be very hard on my head. I found the way to win it. I'm happy about that," the World No.4 said after the match.
"I don't know if it's going to make difference for the next matches, but I will try to improve and learn from this one, try to play better. It's always complicated."
One year ago, Garcia rounded into blistering form in China, as she captured both the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and China Open titles en route to a Top 10 debut and a place at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Though her title defense in Wuhan last week ended at the first hurdle, in a similarly dramatic match against Czech Katerina Siniakova, clutch play from the French No.1 ensured she would not fall in the first round for the second straight week.
"I was definitely very upset after Wuhan - it was very disappointing. Compared to the previous year, I didn't take my chances. I just let the opportunity go in front of me," Garcia said.
"I'm very happy to be back in China Open. I don't think I have more pressure this year right now than I have been all year long. I'm very happy to be here. It's a strong field, like every year, so it's a good opportunity to play good matches. I'm looking forward to it."
Garcia rallied from an early break down in the first set, but was pushed all the way by wildcard, who held a pair of set points in the opener.
After breaking back in the fourth game, the defending champion saved four break points in the fifth game and three more in the 11th, and later came from 5-2 down in the tiebreak.
The Frenchwoman saved both set points on her serve at 6-5 and 10-9, and won the last three points of the set to finally take the lead in just under 80 minutes.
"It was a very complicated match. I'm playing some good parts and then some bad parts. Every single time I was down, I was playing better," Garcia assessed.
"When I had the opportunity to go in front at the score, I was not going for it. Then, she was just taking the chances, and I couldn't finish every single time."
Five of the first six games in the second set were breaks of serve, and it was Wang who eventually steadied first and stamped her authority with a hold to love to move ahead 5-2.
Not yet ready to head to a final set, Garcia ran off the next three games to restore parity, and saved a set point in the 12th game to send the set to another tiebreak.
However, Wang built a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak and hardly looked back from there, sending the match the distance after nearly two-and-a-half hours played.
"In the first set, I was a little bit tense. I shouldn't have lost that many points. I should have relaxed more in the first set...but the last two sets, I think I was okay," Wang said.
"In big tournaments, I had to fight against top players. I had opportunities, but I couldn't win the matches. I hope I can do better in those key points."
An early break in the second game established a lead for Garcia in the decider, as she lost just one point in her first two service games en route to leading 3-0.
However, she needed one last push to get over the finish line: Wang broke in the seventh game to get the match back on serve, but Garcia hit back immediately, and ultimately sealed the match on her third match point.
"Last week against Siniakova, I think it was overall a better match, but it was the same: I was up, I couldn't finish. I'm happy I found the way," Garcia assessed.
"It was the same in the third set. I was playing very well...at 4-1, it was like no trouble, nothing. But I decided it was better to lose my serve than to do a little bit more the battle at the end."
After a marathon win against a wildcard, Garcia will next face a qualifier in the form of Polona Hercog for a spot in the third round. The Slovenian defeated CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-1, 6-2 in opening round action.