DOHA, Qatar - Agnieszka Radwanska made it three three-set victories in a row over Mona Barthel to make a winning start to her Qatar Total Open campaign.
History repeated itself once again as Radwanska dropped the opening set against the tricky Barthel, but managed to turn it around in dramatic fashion and take her tenth match point for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory in just over two hours and 20 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be a tough one - one of the matches I won against her before I had to win from match points down,” Radwanska told WTA Insider afterwards. “And also the conditions were very tricky and the wind is really blowing, the surface is slower.
“So it was really a tough one, but I’m happy I made it through. There’s no more easy matches now.”
The match is also Radwanska’s 17th career victory in Doha from eight previous visits, making her the winningest player in the tournament's 15-year history. But despite her stellar record, the five-time semifinalist came into the first Premier 5 event of the year unseeded in Doha for the first time in her career after an injury-plagued saw her fall out of the Top 20.
She started her 2018 campaign against Germany’s Barthel, who was looking for her first victory in Doha since 2013 and her second win of the season.
An 11-minute game early in the opening set went the way of Barthel, and set the tone for the rest of the match as the pair exchanged slices and dropshots, feeling out each other’s game. After trading breaks to stay level at 4-4, Barthel broke through once more to outhit the Pole just as Radwanska’s usually-stingy unforced error count began to climb.
But just like in their previous two matches, which saw Radwanska drop the opening set both times but ultimately prevail, Radwanska completely turned it around in the second and third. The German stayed on the attack, creating winners off both wings, but Radwanska absorbed all the pace with her trademark counterattacking to start the second with a double break and consolidate to a 4-0 lead.
With the momentum now firmly on her side, Radwanska took the second set and opened the third with another break, which she held for much of the set. But with the finish line in sight, the match took a dramatic turn just as Radwanska broke again at 5-2.
Despite bringing up six match points in the next two games, Radwanska couldn’t find a way to close it out and Barthel suddenly found her best tennis again with her back to the wall. The German reeled off three games in a row to level the set at 5-5.
Radwanska ultimately needed 10 match points, but she avoided the tiebreak and finally closed out the match after two hours and 26 minutes. She played more aggressively in the latter two-thirds of the match, with 28 of her 30 winners coming from the last two sets and hitting just 10 unforced errors. For her part, Barthel struck 58 winners but was undone by her 37 unforced errors and eight double faults.
“I’d rather not talk about those ten match points!” Radwanska joked. “The important thing is I won the tenth one. But definitely it shouldn’t be like this, I made a few mistakes and maybe I played too defensive - and she played very well as well.
“But to be honest this isn’t how you want to win matches - it should have been over at least 30 minutes before!”
Up next in the second round, Radwanska will take on the winner between No.16 seed Petra Kvitova and Turkish wildcard Cagla Buyukakcay.