BUCHAREST, Romania - No.6 seed Laura Siegemund pulled off a remarkable escape in the first round of the BRD Bucharest Open, coming from a set and a double break down to overcome Anhelina Kalinina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 50 minutes.
Four years ago, in their only prior meeting, Kalinina had defeated Siegemund 6-3, 7-5 in the final of an ITF W25 event in Pelham, Alabama, but today the German made all her experience count to capture a belated revenge. Siegemund had appeared down and out after losing eight consecutive games to trail 4-6, 0-3 - but, following a medical timeout to treat her upper arm, managed to turn the match around dramatically to dominate proceedings with a series of wonderful dropshots and bold shotmaking.
Indeed, this was the form the 31-year-old had come out with. After an early exchange of breaks, Siegemund captured the Kalinina serve again for a 3-1 lead, coming up with a marvellous volley, a dropshot-pass combination and a booming forehand down the line on the final three points to wrest the game from her opponent after four deuces.
But the World No.137, playing her first WTA main draw since stretching Sloane Stephens to three sets at last year's US Open, buckled down and refused to allow that tussle to be decisive. Siegemund had been relentlessly targeting Kalinina's more error-prone backhand wing, but the 22-year-old managed to get it firmly under control as she came through two tightly contested deuce games to pull back to 4-4 - levelling the score with two consecutive brilliant crosscourt forehand winners.
Despite the backhand wobbling again on her first three set points, a touch of magic from the Ukrainian in the form of a wrongfooting counter-counterdropshot brought up a fourth opportunity - and this time, a rattled Siegemund sent a backhand long to concede the set.
Indeed, Kalinina would ultimately reel off eight games in a row as she maintained her momentum into the second set. By now, it was the 2017 Stuttgart champion struggling with her range, with consecutive double faults offering Kalinina the opportunity to break at the start of the second act - taken with a glorious drive volley.
The advent of sudden gusts of wind so extreme that the umpire's umbrella was blown inside out did not improve Siegemund's mood as the former World No.27 went down a double break - but a medical timeout did. Returning to court rejuvenated, both Siegemund's power and finesse were suddenly in fine fettle as she began to work the angles and lines of the court, out-manoeuvring an opponent who could neither match her in agility nor creativity.
Having dropped eight games in a row, it was now Siegemund's turn to rattle off a sequence of eight straight games to put herself in a commanding position in the deciding set. With Kalinina's back to the wall, the younger player would raise her level; with both playing well at the same time for the first time in the match, the climax was a thrillingly contested passage of play as Kalinina began to nail some bravura drive volleys and passes to keep herself alive.
But Siegemund was too canny to let her own level drop, and her early break proved decisive. The only wobble for the veteran came as she served for the match, when she suddenly squandered a 40-0 lead and four match points. But, keeping her cool, a backhand down the line saved a break-back point, a clever combination of a deep moonball followed by a dropshot dink demonstrated some more tactical nous and finally a deep backhand drive crosscourt caught Kalinina flat-footed on the fifth match point.