GUANGZHOU, China - No.5 seed Yulia Putintseva halted Sabine Lisicki's comeback in the second round of the Guangzhou International Women's Open with a clever, steady 6-3, 6-3 win in one hour and 19 minutes.
The result moves the Kazakh into her fourth quarterfinal of 2018 and improves her overall win-loss record to 21-21. By contrast Lisicki, who had won her first main draw match since February in the first round here over Vera Zvonareva, finds her hopes of a deep WTA run to aid her comeback from shoulder and knee injuries stymied once more this year.
The 2013 Wimbledon finalist and her renowned serve began brightly, hammering down three unreturnables and moving smoothly into the net to finish points when required. But as Putintseva began to read and dissect Lisicki's game, the inconsistencies that have meant the German has lost eight of her past 10 matches began to come to the fore.
Putintseva began to draw errors with her variety of placement and spin, and Lisicki coughed up two double faults to fall behind a break at 1-3. Neither could the World No.227 take advantage of a handful of flashy forehand winners in the next game to strike back, proving unable to keep the ball in play on return on her two break points.
With Lisicki's accuracy intermittent at best, it was the two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist who demonstrated superior control over her game and the match. Putintseva's hand skills on defence were frequently breathtaking as she turned full-power Lisicki blows into delicate lobs and laser passes.
Unable to consistently find a way past her opponent, the 28-year-old's level plummeted again as she served to stay in the first set, offering up three wild errors and a dropshot that failed to even reach the net.
Throughout the match, Putintseva would repeatedly prove herself the more clutch player: despite Lisicki's delivery being the more famed weapon by some distance, it was the former World No.26 who would remain unbroken over the course of the match.
"I think I played a solid match, I was mentally very focused to play every point because Sabine is very tough to play and doesn't give you time to think," the 2017 St. Petersburg finalist said afterwards.
Despite trailing her opponent by six inches in height and many more miles per hour on her delivery, Putintseva would come up with her best serves to stave off any hint of danger on her serve, surviving another flurry of massive Lisicki forehands and one more break point to hold for 2-1 in the second set.
As though rattled by her missed opportunity, Lisicki would descend once more into wild error in the next game, and Putintseva captured a break to love with another excellent backhand pass for 3-1.
With the former World No.12 still unable to make inroads into the Putintseva serve, that would ultimately be decisive. A quarterfinalist in Taipei City, Roland Garros and Washington already this season, the 23-year-old booked her spot in another on her first match point as yet another Lisicki backhand sailed long. Putintseva will now bid for her first semifinal since St. Petersburg in February 2017 against Ukraine's Kateryna Kozlova, who received a walkover from Jennifer Brady, the American unable to compete due to a right ankle injury.