BIRMINGHAM, England - Garbiñe Muguruza overcame a stern challenge in her first match of the grass court swing, fighting past Elizaveta Kulichkova in three sets at the Aegon Classic Birmingham.
The former Wimbledon finalist was pushed by the 21-year-old Russian qualifier, but was able to weather Kulichkova after nearly two hours on court, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
No.6 seed Muguruza entered the Premier event in Birmingham having gone 0-2 in her previous two appearances, and was thrilled to finally record a win at the Edgbaston Priory Club.
“She came from qualifying, and that means she’s already won three matches in a row here and I felt it,” Muguruza said in her on-court interview.
“It was my first match on grass, and I feel a little bit like a rookie, but I’m happy. I have such good memories on grass in the past few years – but it’s my third time in Birmingham and first time I win a match! Finally!”
Kulichkova played well above her No.154 ranking to keep pace with Muguruza, but it was the Spaniard who edged out the lone break in the tense opening set. Muguruza kept her game tidier, hitting 11 unforced errors less than Kulichkova and four more winners, and she took the opening set after the Russian struck a backhand long.
The Russian regrouped and a flurry of clean winners – including a zinging forehand crosscourt that barely caught the back of the baseline – gave Kulichkova her first break for to get ahead 3-1, and in the next game she fired two aces to solidify her lead. She kept the rhythm and snatch up the second set to level the score.
Muguruza changed tactics heading into the third, taking away the pace and drawing out the unforced errors, immediately rewarded with an early break in the third set, but Kulichkova got them right back on level terms. The pair stayed toe to toe for the rest of the set, trading breaks once again before Muguruza took a decisive break in the final game to put an end to their encounter.
“It was a little bit like a cat fight, almost,” Muguruza explained. “[Kulichkova] is so powerful and serves incredible, her shots are super fast and I think this surface is great for her.
“But I kept my concentration and my spirit and I turned things around.”
Up next Muguruza will take on Alison Riske after the American took down Nottingham champion Donna Vekic, 6-2, 7-6(2) earlier in the day.