Former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova completed one of the most stunning come-backs of the season as she recovered from a set down to beat Kaia Kanepi, 6-7(5) 6-0 6-0, at the bett1open, the WTA 500 tournament in Berlin, while Bianca Andreescu and Daria Kasatkina were among those making winning starts on Monday.
I think the serve was the key because I was serving quite well. I didn't lose my serve at all in the match. Tiebreaks are risky. But the serve was working well. Karolina Pliskova
The top seed in Berlin is Ons Jabeur, ranked 4, following the withdrawal of World No 1 Iga©©, who pulled out because of a shoulder problem and to rest up ahead of Wimbledon.
Swiatek is coming off her 2nd French Open title after beating American teenager Coco Gauff in the final at Roland Garros and had been set to open her grass-court season in Berlin, but she joined World No 2 Anett Kontaveit, No 3 Paula Badosa and former No 1 Naomi Osaka on the sidelines this week.
The Pole tweeted that she was withdrawing because of ‘a recurrent discomfort I am feeling in my shoulder’, adding: “I will focus on recovery and rest in order to be ready for Wimbledon.”
The 21-year-old is on a 35-match winning streak and will be looking for her first Wimbledon title at the All England Club, where she has never been past the 4th round.
During a recent appearance on the WTA Insider podcast, Swiatek appeared to suggest she would only play Wimbledon during the grass season.
“I think, when I’m going to start Wimbledon, I’m just going to think about getting through the first matches,” she said. “I won’t think about the streak because I know it’s not helping me.
“I did the same here [in Paris] and I know how to separate my mind from that and focus on tennis.
“But right now, for sure, I can think about that a little bit more and I would love to add some matches to that streak. But I feel that chapter is closed for sure for clay season, but also after the Sunshine Double I didn’t really have a lot of time to rest and I really want to rest right now after Roland Garros.
“Because back then I was like I’ll have three days off, but I couldn’t really stop thinking about the season.
“Right now I think I will have more time and I really want to do my best at resting.”
Liudmila Samsonova surprised the field last year in Berlin, when she defeated Madison Keys, Victoria Azarenka and then Belinda Bencic in the final to win her first career title, while in doubles, Azarenka teamed up with Aryna Sabalenka to win their first team title, defeating Nicole Melichar & Demi Schuurs in the final.
Pliskova, from the Czech Republic, is last year’s beaten Wimbledon finalist and the No 4 seed here this week, and she got her grass-court season off to a flying start after dropping the first set in the tiebreak against the tricky Estonian, Kanepi, who suffered a rare double bagel in the process.
Struggling on her serve in the first set, the Czech saved a total of 7 break points to force the breaker in which she let a 5-4 lead slip to drop the tight first set, before dominating the rest of the match as Kanepi wilted under the onslaught.
“I think the serve was the key because I was serving quite well,” Pliskova said. “I didn’t lose my serve at all in the match.
“Tiebreaks are risky. But the serve was working well.”
Pliskova, who fired 17 aces in the match, had never lost to Kanepi in 4 meetings, and her 1 hour 43 minute win augurs well as she tries to turn around a slow season after missing the first two months of this year with a hand injury.
Meanwhile, Kanepi, the oldest player in the field at 37 and known for being an upset specialist, is a former World No 15 and has racked up 15 Top 10 wins in her career, including at both of this year’s Grand Slam events.
Things looked to heading that way again when Kanepi snagged the opening frame by forcing a Pliskova error with a big return on her first set point but then, as the tall Czech’s game fell into place, the Estonian’s winner count dipped.
Pliskova slammed 11 winners to just 5 unforced errors while sweeping through the second set without the loss of a game, and it was more of the same for the Czech in the decider as she reeled off the last 12 games in succession to notch 2 bagels in a row, finishing with 44 winners, unbroken all day.
“Of course it feels nice to be back on grass,” she said. “I feel kind of confident, although I didn’t have many matches this year, and I was not really playing my best tennis, but I feel grass can be my surface.”
Pliskova’s next opponent is Andreescu after the Canadian defeated another Czech, Katerina Siniakova, 6-4 4-6 6-4, in a match in which both players had trouble holding serve.
Andreescu had won only one tour-level grass-court match in her career coming into Monday’s first-rounder, but the 2019 US Open champion was able to double that with a 2-hour 16-minute win over Siniakova.
She blew 2 early first set breaks but broke Siniakova again in the 9th game, before serving out for the first set in the 10th.
She looked to be cruising towards a straight-set victory, but the Czech doubles specialist recovered from a break down in the second to force the decider, where she went up an early break.
After 2 topsy-turvy sets leading into the decider and a short rain delay during the 4th game, the pair exchanged breaks once more before Andreescu took the lead for good, breaking for 5-4 behind a blistering forehand service return.
Andreescu then knocked off 2 straight volley winners to successfully serve out the match in the next game.
“I was playing the right tactics but, on grass, one point can change the whole match, the set, the game,” Andreescu said. “So I really had to stay focused.
“She played great tennis, but I’m happy to get through.”
Andreescu, who turns 22 on Thursday, broke Siniakova 7 times on 11 of her chances, while the Czech was less successful with 6 breaks from 13 opportunities.
Pliskova and Andreescu will be going head-to-head for the 3rd time when they meet in Berlin, the Canadian having won in 3 sets when they met for the first time in Toronto in 2019.
The same year, they met again at the WTA Finals, in a match that ended with Andreescu retiring after losing the first set because of a leg injury that kept her out of the game for a lengthy period.
Meanwhile, 6th-seeded Kasatkina got past Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, 5-7 6-3 6-1, after 2 hours, 17 minutes, and she has now won 10 of her last 12 matches.
In one of the first occasions a Russian has faced a Ukrainian opponent on the WTA Tour since Russia’s invasion began in February, 25-year old Kalinina went down with cramp after winning the hard-fought opening set, which lasted more than an hour, and was helped by Kasatkina who brought ice to her aid.
“I didn’t see what happened, I just turned my head and saw Anhelina was lying on the ground,” explained Kasatkina, a semi-finalist at this year’s French Open who is playing as a neutral. “Her calf was cramping, so I got her some ice, and she got a bit of treatment – cramp comes and goes, but luckily she was able to finish the match.”
Kasatkina, who is ranked 12 in the world, 25 places above Kalinina, faces fellow Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova or Ukrainian-born Belgian player Maryna Zanevska, who meet in the first round.
Elsewhere, Australian qualifier Daria Saville fought back to defeat Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, 6-7(2) 7-5 6-2, while defending champion Sasnovich battled past another qualifier, Anastasia Gasanova, 6-2 4-6 6-3, and Wang Xinyu of China advanced with a 3-6 6-3 6-4 win over German qualifier Tamara Korpatsch.
Saville, a former World No 20, has been hindered by injuries over the past few years, but she has reached two quarter-finals this year and is on the brink of returning to the Top 100.
The Aussie awaits the winner of the first round match between 2nd seed Maria Sakkari from Greece and France’s Leolia Jeanjean on Tuesday.