Anett Kontaveit and Maria Sakkari won their opening matches at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open on Monday, dispatching Ekaterina Alexandrova and Kristyna Pliskova respectively.
She was really getting on top of me so I felt I had to push back, and sometimes when you take those risks they pay off. I think it was more adrenaline and instinct, especially at the end of the third - I was behind so badly that I was just trying to stay in it. I thought it was important that I never gave anything to her, she had to earn it to go in front. Anett Kontaveit
While Sakkari’s win was in straight sets, 6-3 6-3, Kontaveit had to come from behind and headed off 2 match points to beat Alexandrova, who took her down to the wire with a third set tiebreak, 4-6 6-2 7-6(6).
““I was so close to being out, so I just tried to stay in the match,” Kontaveit said. “I never really gave up.
“I tried to be a little more aggressive when I was down. I felt maybe I’d taken a little bit off my shots.”
From the outset, Alexandrova’s comfort on the indoor hard court was evident, having won 33 of her past 39 indoor matches in the last two seasons since October 2018.
The World No 33’s first-strike tennis was in fine fettle on both serve and return, redirecting Kontaveit’s pace to find acute angles and bold line strikes.
One such backhand garnered the 25-year-old the first break point of the match in the third game, converted immediately as Kontaveit sent a forehand into the net.
Alexandrova came to within 2 points of taking a double break for 4-1, but Kontaveit managed to hold, broke back to love in the 6th game and held her serve again to take a 4-3 lead.
The Russian, however, broke her again in the 9th game to go up 5-4, and then converted her 2nd set point in with a forehand winner.
Both struggled with their serves in the beginning of the second set, but Kontaveit eventually opened up a 4-1 lead, breaking again in the 8th game before levelling the match.
Just as abruptly as momentum had turned in the second set, so it swung back in the decider, opening with a multi-deuce tussle on the Kontaveit serve, whose ill-timed double-fault gave Alexandrova the chance to break, slamming a forehand winner down the line.
A spectacular run of 9 straight points in the middle of the set, including consecutive 90mph forehand winners to capture the double break, enabled the Russian to tighten her grip on the match, moving out to a quick 4-1 lead.
Leading 5-2, Alexandrova seemed to be in firm control while Kontaveit was making errors and had few ideas in response.
A double-fault and carelessness squandered Alexandrova’s first chance to serve out the win and, 2 games later, another 2 double-faults took her tally for the day to 6 before a wild forehand enabled Kontaveit to level the set at 5-5.
Frustration was channeled into some more accurate forehand strikes to break Kontaveit again but the stroke was also misfiring and the Estonian sensed a chance as she stemmed her own errors, producing a magnificent backhand return winner to break back force the deciding tiebreak.
This mostly resolved by errors rather than winners and while the Kontaveit backhand initially let her down, a brilliant defence-into-offence point began the turnaround on the 5th point.
The former World No 14 still needed to save double match point, with Alexandrova netting a forehand on the first and Kontaveit finding a backhand winner on the second.
Having trailed all the way in the third set, Kontaveit made no mistake on her own first match point, putting away a forehand volley after a thrilling exchange to set up a second-round date with qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo.
The 24-year old Spaniard took out Magda Linette, 6-1 6-3, and has lost all three of her previous encounters with Kontaveit, the last being at the second round of this year’s Australian Open.
Bold play from Kontaveit on the biggest points had enabled the Estonian to withstand the 33 winners from Alexandrova’s racket and snatch an unlikely victory in 2 hours and 14 minutes.
“She was really getting on top of me so I felt I had to push back, and sometimes when you take those risks they pay off,” she related later. “I think it was more adrenaline and instinct, especially at the end of the third – I was behind so badly that I was just trying to stay in it.
“I thought it was important that I never gave anything to her, she had to earn it to go in front.”
Sakkari sets up Svitolina meeting
Maria Sakkari took down Kristyna Pliskova, 6-3 6-3, to set up a second round battle against top seed Elina Svitolina on Wednesday.
It was sweet revenge against home hope for the Greek, who was stunned in straight sets by the Czech in Palermo.
The World No 23-ranked was given a wildcard into Ostrava and fired 28 winners as she broke the Pliskova serve 4 times en route to her win after an hour 20 minutes.
“I kept a similar tactic to last time, but I think I executed it better than then,” Sakkari said in her post-match press conference. “It was just a better performance overall…
“We worked a little bit differently [preparing for Ostrava]. I’m a player that I pick things up kind of quick, and I already feel like I did what we worked on last week.”
Sakkari kept the big-serving Pliskova under pressure from the start, and set the tone for the contest after creating 2 break chances in her opponent’s first service game.
Calm and patiently, she waited to attack Pliskova’s second serves, and was finally rewarded with the first break of the match to take a 4-3 lead, taking control from there, and reeling off the next 2 games to close out the set.
In the second, Sakkari broke through once again late in the set to go ahead 4-2.
Pliskova made a valiant effort to grab the break back, fighting through a marathon game to convert her 6th break chance, but Sakkari reacted right away, raising her level and reestablishing her lead at 5-3 before serving out the victory in an hour and 20 minutes.
“She’s a lefty so it makes things a little bit tricky,” Sakkari said. “So I think the fact that I was just trying to take off some time from her serve, and stepping in and attacking it, this helped a lot. When I had the chance to break her, I did it.”
Looking ahead to her next match against Svitolina, who received a bye into the second round, Sakkari said: “Of course Elina is a top seed, and she’s the top seed for a reason.
“She has been Top 10 for so long because she has a great game and she’s an amazing player. But I really felt good out there today.
“It’s going to be a very different match, but I’ve played her once and I beat her. I know her game, and she knows my game. It’s going to be a very tough battle for both.”
Sixth seed Elena Rybakina faces Daria Kasatkina in a popcorn first-round clash at the Ostrava Open, while other intriguing contests include a battle of finesse between Ons Jabeur and Barbora Strycova.
The inaugural Ostrava Open, an indoor hard-court event, was added to the WTA tour after the tournaments in China were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the hard-hit Czech Republic, where only a maximum of 6 people are allowed to gather amid the government’s restrictive measures adopted to slow the spread of infections, the event received a green light to go ahead but without spectators.
The 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova pulled out after she tested positive for the virus.
Two first-time meetings find US Open semi-finalist Jennifer Brady facing Adelaide runner-up Dayana Yastremska and 16-year-old qualifier Coco Gauff taking on wildcard and former doubles World No 1 Katerina Siniakova.
Order of Play (all courts start 11 am BST on Prime)
- [Q] Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) vs Donna Vekic (CRO)
Not before 12.30pm
-  Elena Rybakina (KAZ) vs [Q] Daria Kasatkina (RUS)
- Zhang Shuai (CHN) vs Karolina Muchova (CZE)
Not before 6pm
- [WC] Katerina Siniakova (CZE) vs [Q] Coco Gauff (USA)
- Barbora Strycova (CZE) vs Ons Jabeur (TUN)
-  Elise Mertens (BEL) / Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs [WC] Jesika Maleckova (CZE) / Chantal Skamlova (SVK)
-  Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) / Demi Schuurs (NED) vs Lucie Hradecka (CZE) / Andreja Klepac (SLO)
Not before 2.30pm
- Dayana Yastremska (UKR) vs Jennifer Brady (USA)
- Anna Blinkova (RUS) / Veronika Kudermoetova (RUS) vs Magda Linette (POL) / Jil Teichmann (SUI)
- Nadiia Kichenok (UKR) / Monica Niculescu (ROU) vs Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER) / Raluca Olaru (ROU)