Cincinnati | Wozniacki stumbles as seeds start to tumble

Former World No 1 Carolina Wozniacki’s come-back stumbled in the opening round of the Western & Southern Open, when the great Dane fell to French lucky loser Varvara Gracheva, leading a host of upsets at the WTA 1000 hard court tournament being held at the Linder Tennis Family Center in Cincinnati on Tuesday, that included exits by Barbora Krejcikova, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Belinda Bencic early in the day.

I'm just a fighter, and I'll just keep going until I get it right. Victoria Azarenka

Wozniacki, the 33-year old wild-card into the draw, was felled by the Russian-born Frenchwoman, 6-4 6-4, in 96 minutes.

Gracheva, who is 23, lost in qualifying to Spain’s Cristina Bucsa, but found her way into the main draw when Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina withdrew due to a foot injury.

The match between Wozniacki and Svitolina, both returning mothers to the tour, had been much anticipated, but instead the Dane faced a formidable challenge in Gracheva, ranked 45, who landed her 33rd match-win of the season.

In only her third match back after a 3-year absence, during which Wozniacki gave birth to 2 children, the Dane had 9 break opportunities on Garcheva’s serve, but failed to convert any of them.

It was 18 years ago, that Wozniacki played her first WTA Tour tournament here in in Mason, Ohio.

“A couple of days after my 15th birthday, I played Patty Schnyder, who was Top 10 in the world,” Wozniacki told reporters earlier this week. “Which, obviously, was not a very easy first round with her lefty spins and everything else. As you can imagine, that didn’t go too well.”

Wozniacki lost that one too, 6-3 6-0, but despite Tuesday’s, she still has made more appearances in Cincinnati than any other woman, with 11 going back to 2005.

“[I told myself] I have some things to work on, and we’ll be back, and I’ll play better. Which I did!” she added, with a laugh.

Wozniacki went on to gain the No 1 ranking, won 30 titles, including the 2018 Australian Open, and collected more than $35 million in prize money.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she stepped away after the 2020 Australian Open, and did not hit a ball for 2 years, but then rekindled that competitive spark and, last week in Montreal, after 3 years and 7 months away from the game, she returned to win her first match over Aussie qualifier Kimberly Birrell, before bowing out to Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in the 2nd-round.

Varvara Gracheva entered the Western & Southern Open as a lucky loser, but she walked away from her opening match win a memorable win over former World No 1 Caroline Wozniacki

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Wozniacki still has the speed and footwork to get most balls back, but Gracheva’s shot-making proved a tad too heavy for her on Tuesday, and she was broken in her second service game.

Gracheva held the edge throughout, and although the Dane fought off 2 set points, she could not get the Frenchwoman’s serve into play on the third.

The second set was more of the same, as Gracheva broke Wozniacki in the opening game, and continued to apply pressure, despite the Dane carving out break points in the 4th and 6th games, which she could not convert.

As Wozniacki turns her attention to the US Open, Gracheva advances to meet her former compatriot, Daria Kasatkina, the 14th seed from Russia, who, like her, has settled in a new country, Spain.

Two-time Western & Southern Open champion Victoria Azarenka knocked out No 11 seed Barbora Krejcikova in a match between two of the major winners in action on Day 2.

© Aaron Doster/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian who has twice been the champion here, knocked out Czech 11th seed Barbora Krejcikova, 6-3 7-5, after trailing 1-4 and 2-5 in the second set.

Both Azarenka and Krejcikova entered the match on the back of injury concerns, the Czech having pulled out of Wimbledon with an ankle problem in the 2nd-round and playing her first match back, while the Belarusian withdrew from an anticipated 2nd-round match against Sloane Stephens last week in Montréal.

Azarenka started the quicker in her third career meeting with Krejcikova, winning 12 of the first 16 points of the match, and wrapped up the 1 hour 45-minute win by taking the last 5 games.

Krejcikova, who made 33 unforced errors in the match, never reached set point at any point from 5-2 up, and lost 10 straight points at a crucial stage of the set, which included Azarenka breaking to love in the 10th game.

“I’m just a fighter, and I’ll just keep going until I get it right,” Azarenka said later.

She also dug out of a 15-40 deficit on serve at 6-5, and won the last 4 points of the match.

Azarenka meets Donna Vekic in round 2 after the Croatian outran American Jennifer Brady, who is also on the come-back trail, 7-6(5) 7-5.

French Open finalist Karolina Muchova moved into the 2nd-round at the Western & Southern Open after coming from a set down to defeat No 12 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia on Tuesday.

French Open finalist Karolina Muchova edged Haddad Maia, the 12th seed from Brazil, 6-7(3) 6-1 6-4 after a 2 hour 49 minute tussle.

Muchova has got herself back into the Top 20 where she sits at No 17, just 2 spots ahead of Haddad Maia who tumbled 7 places this week to No 19 following a lacklustre hard court season.

The Czech was in early strife, though, as she fell 1-3 down and, with a second break of serve going against her, she was facing the loss of the first set at 2-5 when she fought back to level things out at 5-5.

She then faced another serving for the set at 5-6 before breaking back, and pushing it into the tiebreak.

Haddad Maia overcame her jitters over failing to serve the set out three times, and managed to snag the set in the breaker, but, by then, Muchova had gained enough confidence to race away with 3 breaks of serves in the second.

Even when she failed to break early in the third, Muchova secured the break she needed in the 10th game, before breaking again win the match.

Muchova faces Petra Martic in the 2nd-round, who had a good grass court season but has not made deep runs in the North American hardcourt swing so far.

The Croatian did win her opener, though, against American qualifier, Emma Navarro, needing an hour and 50 minutes to get through, 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Spain’s Bucsa put paid to Bencic hopes when she shocked the Swiss 13th-seed, 4-6 6-3 6-2.

Bencic has had a strong year so far, winning 28 matches for the loss of just 10, but the Swiss was woeful on serve on this day, coughing up 14 double-faults and landing less than half of her first serves.

With Bucsa breaking Bencic 10 times across the 2 hour, 29 minute encounter, the World No 84 now moves on to face Italian qualifier Jasmine Paolini next.

Last year's finalist Petra Kvitova saw off Anna Blinkova to advance in Mason, Ohio

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Danielle Collins, the American who pushed World No 1 Iga Swiatek into going the distance in the Montréal quarters as a qualifier last week, has been wild-carded into the Cincy main draw and continued her strong run of form to defeat Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3 6-1, to set up a second meeting with Swiatek on Wednesday.

Swiatek holds a 3-1 head-to-head record against Collins, ranked 34.

Ninth seed Petra Kvitova, who lost to Caroline Garcia in last year’s final, finished with a flourish in her 7-6(2) 6-0 win over Anna Blinkova from Russia.

The 2-time Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic rebounded after losing a 5-2 lead, and 2 set points at 6-5, to dominate the tiebreak and second set against the World No 37 in their first-ever meeting.

Kvitova won the first 4 points of the breaker, and 16 of the first 20 points of the second set, to sail through to the 2nd-round.

In other early action, Jelena Ostapenko beat another former Cincinnati champion, Czech Karolina Pliskova, 1-6 6-3 6-4, and she will next face 4th-seeded Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan, who received a 1st-round bye.

The Latvian came from behind to level her career head-to-head with the former World No 1 after an hour and 49 minutes.

Ostapenko will be the first opponent for Rybakina, having nearly met last week in Montreal in the same round, but the Latvian failed to convert 2 match points in her opening-round loss to Brady, who was then beaten in sets by the Kazakh in Round 2.

In other early results on Tuesday, Egypt’s Mayar Sherif edged out Chinese qualifier Xiyu Wang, 7-6(3) 4-6 7-6(5) in a match that lasted 3 hours and 8 minutes; American qualifier Ann Li took out Pole Magda Linette, 0-6 7-6(5) 6-2; and Czech Marie Bouzkova defeated Irina-Camila Begu from Romania, 6-2 6-2.



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