NURNBERG, Germany - No.1 seed Yulia Putintseva survived a valiant Mona Barthel 7-6(8), 6-1 in inimitable battling fashion to reach the quarterfinals of the Nurnberger Versicherungscup in one hour and 45 minutes.
The result avenges two losses in the Kazakh's previous encounters with Barthel, both of which - in the first round of Doha in 2013 and in Cincinnati qualifying a year later - ended 6-4, 6-2. It also puts Putintseva, in her maiden appearance as the top seed in a WTA tournament, into her second quarterfinal of the 2019 season following her run to the last eight in Sydney.
Barthel, who came into today's match with just a 6-8 record in WTA main draws this year, took some time to warm up. The German's unfortunate start featured two double faults in her opening game, another in her second service game and a loose volley over the baseline to fall behind a double break at 0-3.
But when Barthel found her range, the 28-year-old began to display some of the form that took her up to World No.23 in 2013, setting the scene for an unlikely thriller of a set. Though Barthel had recaptured one of the breaks in the fourth game, it wasn't until Putintseva reached the brink of the set that the contest truly caught fire.
Striking the ball cleanly and accurately off both wings, Barthel would save two set points in brilliant fashion before holding for 4-5 with a neat drive volley - the first of three games in which the four-time WTA champion showcased superlative form both at net and off the ground, eliciting visible frustration from Putintseva, who repeatedly took it out on her racquet.
But the two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist has a reputation as a never-say-die competitor for good reason, and serving to stay in the set it was her turn to stave off two set points magnificently. A forehand pass, an exclamation of "Da!" and a first ace forced a tiebreak, where the drama would continue.
Barthel's tactic of heading forwards whenever possible resulted in a number of thrilling exchanges as the World No.84 was forced to swat away multiple volleys as Putintseva scampered around the court - but while her net play held firm, the set would ultimately be decided when Barthel's groundstrokes went awry. A netted forehand would squander a third set point, and another would gift Putintseva her fifth - which the 24-year-old seized as a Barthel backhand found the net.
Pumped up and in full flow with both her shots and her exhortations, Putintseva would save two break points in the first game of the second set to pave the way for a rather more one-sided affair. Breaking Barthel twice to zoom out to a 5-0 lead, the World No.39 was impregnable on defence and canny with the dropshot - as well as smartly taking the net away from her opponent by coming forwards to show off her own volley skills.
With Barthel collapsing into error, there would be little hint of a similar fightback to the first set - until it was too late. On the brink of defeat, Barthel found her game just enough to dodge the bagel set and force a few more thrilling rallies, saving a first match point with one of the finest extended exchanges of the day. But having nearly paid the price for squandering a big lead in the first set, Putintseva wasn't about to let the same thing happen, and some stellar defensive work got her over the line on her second opportunity.
Up next for Putintseva, who will be bidding to reach her first semifinal since making the Guangzhou final last September, will be a local foe in the shape of either No.8 seed Andrea Petkovic or Anna-Lena Friedsam.