ANNING, China - First-round play at the Kunming Open in the tournament's debut year as a 125K event saw No.1 seed Peng Shuai notch up her maiden win of 2018 with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 defeat of qualifier Aleksandrina Naydenova.
Coming into the tournament, the Chinese No.2 had been 0-5 in matches - and indeed 0-10 in sets - so far this year as she has struggled to come back from a knee injury, and when she fell behind a set to the World No.439, it seemed as though the hole would deepen further.
However, Peng fought back, storming through the second set in just half an hour. After exchanging breaks with her Bulgarian opponent at the start of the decider, the 2014 US Open semifinalist snatched the final crucial break at 4-4, and sealed victory on her third match point. In the second round, Peng will face compatriot and last year's semifinalist Yang Zhaoxuan, who scored her first singles win since September over qualifier Nagi Hanatani 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Another successful former Top 20 player on the first day of play was No.3 seed Yanina Wickmayer, who sped away with the last eight points of the match to defeat qualifier Natalija Kostic 6-4, 7-5.
The Belgian former World No.12 is playing her third consecutive tournament in China since Miami, having notched up a semifinal in the Zhengzhou 125K and a quarterfinal in the Quanzhou ITF $60,000 event so far.
Uzbek No.1 Sabina Sharipova, who lifted the biggest title of her career at the Istanbul ITF $60,000 tournament earlier this month, continued her good form with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 defeat of Russian qualifier Nika Kukharchuk; while No.6 seed Carol Zhao defeated French left-hander Sherazad Reix 7-6(0), 6-3 for her sixth match win of the year. The Canadian will face Amandine Hesse in the second round after the Frenchwoman, fresh off Fed Cup duty, came from a set down to defeat World No.403 Kang Jiaqi 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1.
No.7 seed Han Xinyun, a quarterfinalist last year, is also rebounding up the rankings following a semifinal in Zhengzhou and quarterfinal in Quanzhou, and the Chinese No.8 eked out a narrow straight-sets win over 19-year-old wildcard Zheng Wushuang to progress to the second round. There, Han will meet Peangtarn Plipuech after the Thai snapped a five-match losing streak in style, routing Xun Fang Ying 6-2, 6-0 without facing a break point.