Garbiñe Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber were among the winners in the first round of the bett1open in Berlin on Tuesday, with all three former Grand Slam champions coming through in straight sets.
Very pleased. You never know how it’s going to go in the first match, especially on grass after two years, so I’m very excited to win in two sets against Sorana. We’ve played many times, and it’s always difficult. I guess I was feeling my serve today, and on this surface, it’s super important. Garbiñe Muguruza
Muguruza, the No 6 seed from Spain, saved both of the break points she faced in a 6-3 6-2 win over Romania’s Sorana Cirstea to set up a second-round meeting with Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan, who was a 2-6 6-3 6-4 winner against America’s Shelby Rogers.
Azarenka, the 7th-seed from Belarus, had to break back twice in the second set on her way to a 6-4 7-6(2) win over Andrea Petkovic, with another experienced German waiting for her in the second round after Kerber swept past qualifier Misaki Doi from Japan, 6-2 6-1.
Both Muguruza and Kerber are former World No 1 players and Wimbledon champions, and their class showed on the grass of the Rott-Weiss Tennis Club where the German, playing on home soil, defeated the Japanese qualifier with considerable ease.
“It was a really solid match,” Kerber said, in her post-match press conference. “It’s never easy to play a first match on grass courts, especially against a lefty as well.
“So I’m really happy about my performance and how I started the grass-court season.”
Kerber has improved her win-loss record against Doi to 6-0 but, at the 2016 Australian Open, the German saved a match point against before going all the way to her first Grand Slam title.
“[That] was the match which I turned around and was able to win my first Grand Slam, so of course you will have this match always in your mind,” Kerber said. “But every match starts from zero, so I was more focused on the match today, playing against her on grass-court.
“She played good matches in the qualies, so it’s never easy to play against someone who played a few matches already.”
This time around, 2018 Wimbledon champion Kerber was in complete control, hitting 23 winners to just 10 unforced errors, and saving all 3 of the break points she faced, as she eased to a 60-minute victory.
Kerber reeled off the first 7 points of the match en route to finding herself up a double-break at 3-0, ending that run with a divine rally backhand winner.
She saved a break point and gritted out a tough hold for 4-0 before Doi got on the scoreboard, courtesy of an overhead winner for 4-1 and, at 5-1, the Japanese saved 2 set points with a forehand winner and a winning drop-shot before holding serve, but Kerber was not to be denied, and confidently served out the opening set to love.
A break in the first game of the second kicked off a similar run for Kerber as she again leapt to a 4-1, double-break lead and while she needed to save 2 break points in the next game, she got out of that jam before breaking Doi for a third time in the set to close out the win.
Kerber will now take on another former World No 1 and multiple-Grand Slam champion in the second round: Victoria Azarenka, who defeated another German, Andrea Petkovic, earlier on Tuesday.
Later in the day, Muguruza joined her in the second round after easing past Cirstea in an hour 9-minutes.
“Very pleased,” Muguruza said on court, after her win. “You never know how it’s going to go in the first match, especially on grass after two years, so I’m very excited to win in two sets against Sorana.
“We’ve played many times, and it’s always difficult.”
Muguruza struck 15 winners to Cirstea’s 12, and converted 6 of her 14 break points to end a two-match losing streak as she improved her stellar season win-loss record to 24-8.
Cirstea came undone with 35 unforced errors in the match, but despite the loss, the Romanian is still having a resurgent 2021, having won her first WTA singles title in nearly 13 years in Istanbul, and reaching the round of 16 at Roland Garros last week.
Muguruza won all of her 14 first-service points in the opening set, in which she took control by winning a critical 3-3 game, which went to deuce 7 times before the Spaniard converted her 4th break point of the game, and she then broke for a second time at 5-3 to clinch the one-set lead.
“I guess I was feeling my serve today, and on this surface, it’s super important,” said Muguruza, who cruised to a 4-0 lead in the second set as well before she double-faulted on break point of the next game, dropping serve for the first time.
The last 5 games of the clash went against serve as Cirstea opened up on returns, but Muguruza wrapped up the win with a backhand winner down the line.
Meanwhile Azarenka triumphed in a throwback rivalry over wildcard Andrea Petkovic, saving 3 set points in the second set in a match that was narrowly contested to the end, with the Belarusian needing to overturn a 3-5 deficit in the second set to progress.
“I was sometimes dropping my level a bit with not being aggressive enough,” said Azarenka afterwards. “I was getting too frustrated in some moments when I had opportunities and didn’t take them, so I want to learn from that for my next round.
“I think I was putting myself into too much of a dangerous situation when I could have been more disciplined.”
Azarenka found herself embroiled in a succession of high-octane baseline exchanges with Petkovic, who kept her intensity high throughout the match and struck 26 winners to 36 unforced errors.
Afterwards, she spoke about the quick transition from clay to grass having certain benefits.
“It’s a really good way of getting right into the matches,” said Azarenka. “To find the rhythm in more difficult situations, it’s maybe better than practicing for a longer time. Matches always show where your level is at.”
Elsewhere, a stellar 3-setter saw Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova overcome Czech No 8 seed Muchova 7-6(5) 5-7 6-2 in 2 hours 27 minutes, while compatriot qualifier Liudmila Samsonova scored her second Top 50 win of the year with a 6-4 7-6(6) win over another Czech, Marketa Vondrousova.