MIAMI, FL, USA - No.13 seed Caroline Wozniacki scored her first Top 50 win of 2019 in the second round of the Miami Open, coming through a tight contest that featured 14 breaks of serve over Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 32 minutes.
Injury and illness have prevented Wozniacki from getting into the swing of the season so far - diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year, a viral illness also hampered her Middle East swing, and she was an opening-round loser in Indian Wells to Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Consequently today's result, which extends the Dane's head-to-head lead over Sasnovich to 3-0, is just her fourth match win of the year.
"Honestly, I just fought well. I didn't think I played particularly well today. I just kept fighting," Wozniacki said after the match.
"There were games when I felt like I played fine, pretty good, then there were games where I said, 'What am I doing?' It was a constant battle of just trying to win. Sometimes you just need to fight through."
Understandably, the former World No.1 was not at her consistent best, with unusually errant backhands handing over an immediate break to the Belarusian. But Sasnovich also struggled with sustaining her best form today, fluctuating between beautifully struck shotmaking and ill-timed lapses into error.
With seven breaks of serve over the course of the first set, momentum was hard to come by - but as Wozniacki warmed to her task, it was the 2018 Australian Open champion who rode the ebbs and flows of the scoreboard better.
With dogged defense forcing Sasnovich to go for lower percentage shots, Wozniacki moved up 5-3 - and although she was unable to close it out on serve, stepped up the aggression on return, firing three excellent forehand winners and taking the set when the World No.36 double faulted.
"It's hard when you're in bed most of the time through Doha, Dubai. I expect a lot out of myself. Going to play Indian Wells and basically not having practiced for a month, I still wanted to play well," Wozniacki said.
"I thought I played pretty decent compared to how much I'd been able to practice. I was proud of my fight.
"I just have to keep putting myself out there and I have to keep just doing my best. That's really all I can ask of myself right now. Hopefully tomorrow is going to be better. That's all I can do."
Indeed, double faults would prove a rather serious issue for Sasnovich today: the 25-year-old would commit four in the first set and six in the second, twice falling behind break point by doing so, with a pair of them leading to Wozniacki breaking for 2-0.
As in the first set, neither player's serve was secure, with another seven breaks across the second act. And once again, it was Wozniacki who was able to reset after several lung-busting rallies, regardless of whether the 28-year-old had won them or not.
"I feel like it's definitely not been the greatest start to the year health-wise for me. I'm just really thankful I can be out there and play and compete. All I can do right now is just try and get the matches under my belt, try to play better," she added.
"Finally the last week or so, I really feel like I'm starting to hit the ball well in practice. Hopefully that's going to transfer into a match and it's just going to get better."
The eighth game of the second set epitomised Sasnovich's struggles. The two-time WTA finalist played some of her finest tennis here, constructing points impeccably and finishing them off with perfect execution at net; after a quintessentially bruising baseline exchange with Wozniacki, she kept her head to end it with a dropshot.
But the game nonetheless ended with Sasnovich getting broken, with each step forward matched by a step back: a dropshot into the bottom of the net, an eighth double fault and on the final break point a tentative volley tapped straight back into Wozniacki's strike zone.
In a reprise of the first set, the Eastbourne and Beijing champion would play a curiously loose game when called on to serve it out - but just as before, she merely came back out after the changeover to play a perfect return game.
A brilliant forehand winner off a Sasnovich dropshot brought up match point, taken at the first opportunity when a frustrated Sasnovich smacked an impatient forehand into the net.
Up next for Wozniacki will be another stern test in the form of Monica Niculescu's web of slices, after the Romanian upset No.20 seed Garbiñe Muguruza in three sets.
"She takes your rhythm away. There's no two shots that are the same. She gets a lot of balls back. I just need to stay focused, fight out there, just try and get my rhythm basically," the Dane said.
"I need to stay aggressive, but not overly aggressive. That's really it."