Pliskova struggles but delivers

Antonio Arenas Mutua News, Women's Tennis

The first round of the women’s singles was completed on Friday with the conclusion of the matches in the bottom half of the draw. Having faced the first hurdle, 32 players fell by the wayside and will have to wait for next year’s Mutua Madrid Open for the sweet taste of victory.

One of the first to experience the difficulty of progressing on the Madrid clay was Czech player Karolina Pliskova. The world No. 9 had to dig deep for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over US player Cori Gauff. The young player from Atlanta needed three set points to take a 1-0 lead, but she soon witnessed the reaction of the ex-world No. 1. With the confidence earned in the second set, the sixth seed barnstormed through the decider with two breaks in the first four games and the match ended in victory for one of the tournament favourites.

The morning session was opened by the match between the Russian Daria Kasatkina and the Romanian Irina Begu. After 3 hours of play, the tie fell to the side of the Muscovite, who came back from a set down (4-6, 6-4,7-6). The world No. 37 had as many as seven match points in the final set and would eventually finish her opponent off in the tiebreak.

Belarusian player Aryna Sabalenka also delivered her expected victory as the tournament’s fifth seed. The player from Minsk barely gave a look in to her opponent, Vera Zvonareva, a qualifier. The No. 7 in the WTA ranking closed out the match with a convincing 6-1, 6-2, breaking her opponent’s serve on five occasions.

There was no upset in the match between the Greek Maria Sakkari and US player Amanda Anisimova on the Arantxa Sánchez court. Sakkari managed to recover after an impressive start from the New Jersey native, winning 0-6, 6-1, 6-4 in one of the day’s highest-tempo matches.

The Czech Karolina Muchova, one of the sensations of the day, qualified for the next stage without difficulty (6-1, 6-3) against Chinese player Qiang Wang. The Australian Open semi-finalist produced a near-perfect performance with 79% of points won on her first serve, as well as converting five out of her seven break points. In the second round, one of the players to beat, the Japanese Naomi Osaka, now awaits.

We cannot talk about convincing performances this Friday without mentioning Belgian player Elise Mertens. The world No. 16 took the first win on the Madrid clay in two straight sets (6-3, 6-3) despite having her serve broken in the first game of both sets.

The match between the Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova and Belarusian player Victoria Azarenka was another of the attractions of the day. The player from Minsk came out on top of a to-and-fro match (7-5, 3-6, 6-1), relying on her formidable baseline game. The current world No. 15, runner-up at the tournament in 2011 and 2012, will be looking to continue her form at a tournament where she has many happy memories.

Other first-round results from the bottom half of the draw:

N. Osaka (JPN) d. M. Doi (JPN) 7-5,6-2

A. Kontaveit (EST) d. N. Stojanovic (SRB) 7-6,7-5

J. Pegula (USA) d. S. Cirstea (ROU) 7-6,6-3

S. Halep (ROU) d. S. Sorribes (ESP) 6-0,7-5

S. Zheng (CHN) d. M. Linette (POL) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) d. M. Keys (USA) 7-5,6-2

J. Ostapenko (LAT) d. P. Hercog (POL) 6-3,6-1

E. Rybakina (KAZ) d. A. Tomljanovic (AUS) 6-4,6-0