Canada’s Bianca Andreescu returned to the match court at the Internationaux de Strasbourg in France with a first-round win over Spanish qualifier Andrea Lazaro Garcia.
I think my game style really suits the clay, just because of the variety I have, and some of the heavy, high balls that I hit are obviously more effective on clay just because the ball bounces more. And also my drop shots, if I hit it right, and it’s been showing in practice and practice matches and all that, so I’m super excited to bring that into the match court. Bianca Andreescu
The top seed needed just 61 minutes to post a comfortable 6-1 6-2 victory to advance, winning 83.9 percent of her first-serve points in her first match since losing to World No 1 Ash Barty in the Miami Open final in early April when she was forced to retire with a foot injury.
Andreescu was then forced out of the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, the latest in a string of bad luck that has kept her off the court for much of the last 18 months.
She has found ways to accept the numerous interruptions that have plagued her career, but admits it has not been easy to navigate these past few weeks.
“It was super tough, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “When I got the phone call, it was crazy because I got tested negative twice and then I took my flight on Friday and I got tested positive on Saturday, which was super weird.
“I really don’t know with this Covid thing.
“For sure it was disappointing. First couple of days were tough but thankfully I didn’t have any serious symptoms, just like a little cough.
“Coming out of that, I took another 12 days off, which disrupted a lot of things, but it’s a pandemic, you cannot really control things.
“I was as careful as I could be, my team as well, but I was in Miami. Miami doesn’t really have that many restrictions and we did the best we could.”
Playing her first clay court match in nearly 2 years, Andreescu is making her long-awaited return with a firm eye on Roland Garros.
“Obviously watching Nadal just winning year after year after year was really cool to watch,” the 2019 US Open champion told rolandgarros.com.
“Roland-Garros was the first ever Grand Slam I’d ever been to, it was super surreal.
“I was 14, 15, I lost first round, I was super devastated but I was super happy to be there, like amongst all the top athletes, so that was really cool.
“And then I won the doubles title in juniors with my partner, Carson Branstine [in 2017], so that was really cool, I have great memories.”
Incredibly, Monday’s contest was only the second WTA-level main draw match on clay of Andreescu’s career.
Lazaro Garcia, ranked 279, had competed in last year’s Prague WTA 125 event, and ousted top seed Monica Niculescu in the second round, but she could muster the guns to bother the Canadian.
The error-strewn Spaniard was kept firmly at bay by Andreescu’s power and spin.
While there was little sign of rust, Andreescu did cough up 3 double-faults in the 3rd game of the second set so she had to fend off a break point for the only time in the match.
A strong serve did the trick, and the World No 9 cruised on from there, sealing it on her 3rd match point with a 5th break of serve when Lazaro Garcia netted a forehand.
Andreescu reached the 2nd round at Roland-Garros 2 years ago but then gave American Sofia Kenin a walkover due to injury.
The 20-year-old is keen to show the world what she is capable of on the surface, and hopes to get as many matches as possible under her belt in Strasbourg this week before heading to Paris.
“I think my game style really suits the clay, just because of the variety I have, and some of the heavy, high balls that I hit are obviously more effective on clay just because the ball bounces more,” she explained on Sunday.
“And also my drop shots, if I hit it right, and it’s been showing in practice and practice matches and all that, so I’m super excited to bring that into the match court.”
Later on Monday, Romania’s Sorana Cirstea claimed a 6-1 2-6 6-1 victory over former World No 1 Venus Williams in an hour and 45 minutes, upending the direction of their rivalry.
Cirstea had lost all 3 of her previous encounters with 7-time Grand Slam champion but, in their first-ever meeting on clay, the Romanian prevailed in the American’s Strasbourg debut.
The win extends a 2021 resurgence for Cirstea, World No 61, who claimed her first singles title since 2008 in Istanbul and has seen her ranking improve 25 places since the end of last season.
Cirstea opened the match with a handful of blistering returns, breaking Williams to love in the very first game, setting the tone for the 3 further breaks as she swept to the one-set lead.
Williams claimed the momentum in the second, moving ahead a break and holding onto that lead with key routine service games.
In the decider, however, Cirstea notched another early break at love for 2-0, and was never challenged from there, closing the clash out with her 4th ace.
Cirstea will next face China’s No 6 seed Zhang Shuai, who ousted Misaki Doi, from Japan, 7-5 6-4.
Also on Monday, No 4 seed Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan won 1 of the 5 longest matches of the season, outlasting Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, 6-4 3-6 7-6(2), in a 3 hour 20 minute marathon.
Peterson needed 6 set points in the last game of the second set before levelling the match at a set apiece, and then had chances to serve out the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the third, but Putintseva broke back each time, sending the affair into a decisive 3rd-set tiebreak.
The Kazakh eased through the breaker to finish off the epic clash, winning her 2nd straight meeting with Peterson to tie up their head-to-head at 2-2.
Putintseva will now meet Jil Teichmann in the second round, after the Swiss defeated Russia’s Anna Blinkova, 6-2 6-3.
Elsewhere, Caroline Garcia joined Alizé Cornet to make it two former champions from France in the second round.
Garcia, the 2016 winner defeated another Kazakh Zarina Diyas, 7-5 6-2, snatching the key first-set break at its conclusion before racing away with the second set, while Cornet was a 6-4 7-5 winner over Kristyna Pliskova from the Czech Republic.
In a battle of qualifiers, Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska scored her first WTA main draw win since Bucharest 2018, defeating Yuliya Hatouka, 6-2 6-1, who is a 21-year-old Belarusian, also making her WTA main draw debut.
Zanevska’s second-round opponent is the No 1 seed Andreescu.
Fifth-seeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic won 6-3 3-0 when France’s Oceane Dodin retired due to adductor pain, and will meet Garcia.