World No 1 Ash Barty returns to match play at the Qatar Total Open, which got underway on Sunday with a 56 field that saw Garbiñe Muguruza out of the blocks, surviving a rollercoaster first-round clash against qualifier Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 5-7 6-3, after 2 hours and 49 minutes of enthralling play.
I'm looking forward for tough matches, I'm not trying to be worried when it gets to a third set or something like that. Last year I played a lot of three-set matches, they didn't go my way - and this year I'm back at it again and just going more for it and being a little bit more patient. Garbiñe Muguruza
The Spaniard, seeded 11th in Doha, was 5-2 up in the 2nd set, and held a match point, before Kasatkina levelled the show.
The Russian made things easier for Muguruza, however, with a succession of 3rd-set double-faults, handing over the crucial break of serve.
“I was expecting a tough match,” stated Muguruza afterwards. “All the matches that we have played have been long, and three sets, and tough matches. So I was prepared for another type of match like that.
“I feel like I had a lot of opportunities maybe to step it up earlier, in the first set, in the second set… I think I could have played better at certain moments, but the end it’s a victory and I’m happy for it.”
Muguruza stormed the net at every opportunity, testing Kasatkina’s ability to pass her and swatting the ball away with little trouble for the most part.
At the last it was the Spaniard’s superior power and her greater intensity that by-passed Kasatkina’s court-craft in the longer rallies and won the day.
The 2016 Roland Garros and 2017 Wimbledon champion’s resurgence in 2020 has seen her come out on the winning side of a number of tough matches such as this.
“There’s not a different approach, I really don’t care what the score is,” she told reporters. “A victory is a victory.
“I’m looking forward for tough matches, I’m not trying to be worried when it gets to a third set or something like that.
“Last year I played a lot of three-set matches, they didn’t go my way – and this year I’m back at it again and just going more for it and being a little bit more patient.
“It’s nothing really different that I’m thinking… just putting the fight and this year it’s going my way.”
Muguruza will next face Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, a 6-2 6-4 winner over compatriot Priscilla Hon, while earlier in the day, defending champion Elise Mertens easily beat China’s Wang Qiang, 6-1 6-2.
Top seed Barty is making her Dubai debut and, having received a bye, faces Germany’s Laura Siegemund, a qualifier who beat Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-1 6-2.
The tournament is without 2014 winner Simona Halep, who pulled out after her big title win in Dubai on Saturday, prompting a shuffling up of seeds.
Without Halep, the event still boasts 6 in the Top 10 and the last 4 champions: 2019 Elise Mertens, 2018 Petra Kvitova, 2017 Karolina Pliskova, and 2016 Carla Suarez Navarro.
Former finalists Jelena Ostapaneko and Muguruza are also in the field along with Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, rising star Elena Rybakina, American sensation Amanda Anisimova and former Top 5s Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Already into round 2 are Ostapenko, Anisimova and Kuznetsova; together with Ons Jabeur, Alison Van Uytvanck, Bernarda Pera, Veronika Kudermetova and Karolina Muchova.