Elise Mertens, the second seed at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, came from behind to defeat Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina, booking herself a second round clash with former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva, while Nadia Podoroska took out Irina-Camelia Begu in her first appearance in over a month.
The whole has to be played, whether it's two sets or three. The opponent still has to win two sets, so I just started fresh after the first set. She may have had an advantage, but I was trying to find solutions, and do things I wasn't doing at first. I kept myself going, stayed positive, and that worked. Elise Mertens
Mertens, who reached the quarter-finals of the US Open for a second year in a row, lost the opening set in 43 minutes before racing to level up, saving a break point late on.
“It may not have been the best match I played,” Mertens said after winning the match, 2-6 6-1 6-2. “It was a bit of a struggle in the first set.
“She played pretty aggressively and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. I tried to change in the second and third sets where I was stepping into the court more.
“I was mentally prepared for a battle, and it was certainly a battle until the end.”
The Belgian shook off her slow start to dispatch the inspired Kalinina, concluding first round action after 2 hours and 5 minutes on the grey show court.
Kalinina was the runner-up to Marie Bouzkova at the 2014 US Open girl’s event, who came close to a Top 100 debut and major breakthrough four years later at Flushing Meadows when she nearly dethroned defending champion Sloane Stephens.
The American ultimately advanced in three sets, while Kalinina has since slid down the WTA rankings from her career-high of No 107 to 163.
Against Mertens, who is fresh off winning the Ostrava doubles title with Aryna Sabalenka, the 23-year-old was first to break and fought through successive marathon games late in the first set to take it with the loss of just 2 games.
“I felt everywhere and nowhere in the first set,” lamented Mertens. “I was reaching a lot and not getting a lot of depth on my shots. I was too far behind the baseline to hit the angles I needed.”
The story changed in the second as Mertens emerged on top after an exchange of breaks and was soon ahead 5-1, saving a late break point to level the match on her second opportunity.
“The whole has to be played, whether it’s two sets or three,” she said. “The opponent still has to win two sets, so I just started fresh after the first set.
“She may have had an advantage, but I was trying to find solutions, and do things I wasn’t doing at first.
“I kept myself going, stayed positive, and that worked.”
The Belgian broke first in the decider, moving ahead with the help of some decisive hitting from the baseline.
Surviving a 7 minute service game, she put away a powerful overhead to consolidate and broke once more as Kalinina netted a forehand.
“She was really attacking my second serve with her backhand, so I tried to put in more body serves to her forehand,” observed Mertens. “From the backhand side, she was able to go down the line or cross-court from the ad side.”
Roaring ahead 3 match points, an ace put the No 2 seed over the finish line and into the second round.
Up next for Mertens is former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva, who outfoxed Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk in straight sets on Tuesday.
The two have faced off twice in the last few weeks in doubles, with Zvonareva partnering Laura Siegemund to defeat Mertens & Sabalenka en route to the US Open title only for the Belgian to avenge the defeat in Ostrava when the Russian paired with 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
“Doubles and singles are a bit different, so I’ll have to look at how she plays,” Mertens said. “She’s obviously a very experienced player with a lot of matches under her belt. I’m really excited for the match tomorrow.”
Earlier in the day, Nadia Podoroska came through her first match since her impressive run to the semi-finals at Roland Garros, producing a solid display to to defeat Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-4 6-4, in an hour 43 minutes.
“This year I learned a lot about myself, about my game. It was a very good year for me,” the 6th-seeded Argentine said. “I improved many things [in my game], that was the most important thing.
“After [Roland Garros], I went back to Alicante. I live there, I train in Spain. I basically rested for one week, and then I started training again.
“So my life didn’t change too much; I’m playing another tournament, so my life is quite the same.”
Next up is Camila Giorgi, the 2018 champion, after the Italian defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-3 5-7 6-4, on Wednesday.
Podoroska has skyrocketed from No 131 in the world into the Top 50, but despite all she has accomplished this season, she does not see herself as a favourite.
“I still try to be focused on each match and try to learn about this new tournament,” she said. “And try to keep improving my game., my tennis.
“The courts here are fast but the bounce feels quite slow, which I like.
“Playing indoors, you don’t deal with bad weather, there’s no sun, there’s no wind, so that’s great for me. It cleans up my tennis.”
The 23-year-old from Argentina comes form a country rich with champions, and names Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabatini as her idols, but she also has been inspired by her compatriot Diego Schwartzman, who has qualified for the ATP Finals for the first time.
“Now in the present, Diego is an inspiration for me because at the moment he is [No. 9] in the world and he worked too hard for achieving all what he achieved,” she said. “And it’s super motivating for me.”
Against Begu, she showed no signs of rust and edged through the tough battle in straight sets, playing aggressively to charge to an early 3-1 lead but the Romanian was determined to make every game a fight, and her tenacity was rewarded with a break back to level at 3-3.
The Argentine claimed the decisive break to retake the lead at 5-4, and had to save 3 break points in the next game, but secured the set on her fifth set point.
Refusing to go away, Begu recovered strongly to start the second, with an early break to take her first lead of the match at 3-1, but Podoroska continued to press the Romania’s serve, and broke back straight away to level the score at 3-3.
Another decisive break at 5-4 put Podoroska back in the lead, and she again dodged break points to defeat her doubles partner, 6-4 6-4.
“I’m playing doubles with Irina because she’s a great player in singles and doubles, she has great strokes and serves great,” Podoroska Spanish speaking media. “But most of all, I have a great relationship with her.
“She speaks Spanish, we get along great, and that’s very important for me when I’m playing doubles with someone.
“We didn’t know, of course, that [we would have to play each other in the first round],” she added in English. “But we have a very good relationship and we both know that on court, it’s just tennis.
“And tomorrow we will be together to win [our quarter-final doubles match].”
In other Wednesday results, Oceane Dodin, the French qualifier, upset the7th-seeded Swiss, Jill Teichmann, 1-6 6-4 6-2, while Veronika Kudermetova, the No 5 seed from Russia dispatched local wild card Barbara Haas without dropping a game.
Two second round matches were also completed on Wednesday, with Czech Barbora Krejcikova getting past Greet Minnen from Belgium, 5-7 7-6(7) 6-4, and she will next meet Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus, who went the distance against Croatian qualifier Jana Fett, 3-6 6-1 6-3, for a spot in the semi-finals.