LONDON, UK - No.6 seed Petra Kvitova returned from a six-week injury layoff in style, coming through the creative test of Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-2 in exactly one hour.
The Czech star had not played since retiring to Maria Sakkari in the third round of Rome in May, withdrawing from Roland Garros and her grass warm-up tournaments with a left forearm problem - and was facing an opponent also entering Wimbledon under an injury cloud. Jabeur had played some magical tennis en route to a season-best performance last week in Eastbourne - but went over on her ankle in the closing stages of her quarterfinal win over Alizé Cornet, and was forced to withdraw ahead of her semifinal against Angelique Kerber.
It was a relief, then, to see both players come out of the gates unhampered - certainly on serve, anyway, with the match opening with five quickfire service holds, only three points going against the server. In the sixth game, though, Jabeur's high-risk strategy wobbled, encouraged on its way by Kvitova approaching the net with aggressive intent; a dropshot drifted just wide and the Tunisian's rocket groundstrokes missed their mark to concede the first break as Kvitova quickly leapt out to a 5-2 lead.
On the brink of losing the first set, the World No.56 stemmed her flow of errors, saving three set points with clutch serving and a flashy forehand - before breaking Kvitova with a finely timed lob. But the deficit was too much for Jabeur to make up - and the two-time champion finally got over the line on her fifth set point.
Jabeur's strategy had been to go toe-to-toe with Kvitova in terms of aggression - and while this paid off on a few occasions with some spectacularly redirected pace, more often than not it merely played into the Australian Open finalist's hands. Kvitova's relentless weight of shot routinely rushed the Moscow runner-up and allowed her no time to create her trademark finesse shots; instead, high-octane baseline rallies tended to end with Jabeur, who would tally 15 unforced errors to only nine winners, misfiring.
By contrast, a relaxed-looking Kvitova was able to play within herself to maintain control of the scoreboard. Some fine net play and breathtaking returning found her breaking Jabeur three times in the set; and although the Eastbourne semifinalist was able to peg one of those back, Kvitova was an increasingly irresistible form as she headed towards the finishing line.
A brilliant angled forehand winner would set up match point - and the former World No.2 would take it with a cheekily dinked reflex volley, her 11th winner of the day, to set up a second-round tilt against doubles World No.1 Kristina Mladenovic.