LINZ, Austria - Former champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova made a winning start to her Upper Austria Ladies Linz campaign, edging past a determined Viktoria Kuzmova to win 7-5, 7-5.
The No.6 seeded Russian, who lifted the trophy here back in 2015, returned to Linz for her fourth appearance at the tournament - forgoing a trip to Hong Kong to defend her title at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open.
“Of course I have very nice memories here in Linz,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “It’s nice to come and remember I won here three years ago. It feels awesome, but now it’s a new year, a new week. Every match is very difficult - I would love to repeat here but it’s still very far ahead. I can’t think really think about it.”
She came into the tournament looking to close out her 2018 season on a high note; earlier in the season she claimed her 12th WTA title in Strasbourg after winning an epic final against Dominika Cibulkova - at three hours and 36 minutes, it’s still the longest WTA match of the year. But along the way, Pavlyuchenkova picked up a disappointing 10 opening round exits this season as well.
She avoided an 11th against Kuzmova, making the perfect start as she broke the Slovak twice in a row to open with a 4-1 lead, staying comfortably in front with her heavy groundstrokes. Kuzmova managed one of the breaks back to make it 4-2, but the Russian continued her steady march ahead to close out the set.
But the Slovak didn’t make it easy for her - Kuzmova saved two set points and finally leveled the score with a second break, pushing Pavlyuchenkova back as she raised her level. She saved five set points in total as she fought to bring them to a tiebreaker, but the Strasbourg champion was unperturbed, taking her sixth chance and closing out the set in 48 minutes.
Pavlyuchenkova carried the momentum into the second, breaking Kuzmova right away and fighting off three break-back points to hang onto the lead. Kuzmova finally broke back seven games later to make it 4-4, pushing the Russian into making hasty errors. But finally Pavlyuchenkova righted the ship, grabbing the decisive break at 6-5 and seeing out the set to win after an hour and 38 minutes.
“I think in the end I was a little bit more consistent, and played better in the end,” Pavlyuchenkova assessed. “She was serving unbelievable today, and I knew she has a great serve - especially indoors - because I’ve seen her play before.
“I was just happy that I could manage that break at 5-5 in the second set. I think that was the key: just returning well and guessing where she’s serving.”
Up next, Pavlyuchenkova will face the winner between Belinda Bencic and Vera Lapko in the second round.
Wrapping up the day’s action, the last round of qualifying saw top seed Anna-Karolina Schmiedlova claim a main draw berth over Natalia Vikhlyantseva after a straight sets win, 6-1, 6-2. Anna Blinkova came back from a set down to oust Kristyna Pliskova 6-1, 6-2, while Fiona Ferro knocked out Viktorija Golubic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Ekaterina Alexandrova, Valentini Grammatikopoulou, and Jil Teichmann also earned main draw spots.