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And so it begins…

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Ostapenko and Garcia early Gippsland Trophy winners

The 2017 French Open champion Jelana Ostapenko of Latvia, seeded 13 at the Gippsland Trophy, had a tough opener, beating Italy’s Sara Errani, 4-6 6-3 6-1, in a first round clash of two former top-5 ranked players., while former World No 4 Caroline Garcia also notched her first win of the season on Sunday.

It was a lot of emotions to get back on court, finally,. I tried to stay very calm and play one point at a time and I think I improved during the match so that’s the most positive thing about today. Carolina Garcia

In a battle of wild shot-making and gesticulations that needed an hour and 46 minutes to resolve, Ostapenko, currently ranked 45 and one of four Grand Slam champions in the draw, posted her first win over Errani.

The Italian is ranked 131 these days but remains a tricky opponent and it took Ostapenko some time to add accuracy to her power game but eventually hit 56 winners.

Errani used her deft touch at the net to assist her first-set surge, picking off the final 4 games of the opening frame to claim the one-set lead.

The first 6 games of the second went against serve, but down 0-40 at 3-3, Ostapenko caught fire, fighting back to earn the first hold of the set, then breaking Errani again to lead 5-3, honing her hefty cuts to surge back to a set apiece on the back of 18 of those winners.

Ostapenko kept her roll going and slammed a backhand winner to close out the second set.

Now cracking her returns with aplomb, Ostapenko soared through the decider, winning 10 of the last 11 games to advance, her winners outpacing the 42 unforced errors she made in the process.

The Latvian next meets Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.

Caroline Garcia of France, seeded 12th, launched her season with a 6-3 6-4 win over Australian wildcard Arina Rodionova.

“It was a lot of emotions to get back on court, finally,” Garcia said. “I tried to stay very calm and play one point at a time and I think I improved during the match so that’s the most positive thing about today.”

The World No 44 Garcia fell to wildcards in her first two tournaments last year, but did not make a similar mistake in her first match of 2021, as she dispatched the 169th-ranked Aussie in 77 minutes.

The Frenchwoman extended her head-to-head lead over Rodionova to 2-0, blasting 25 winners to just 17 unforced errors during her second straight-set win over the Australian.

Garcia later remarked about playing in stadiums with fans again: “It was fun but so stressful so I think the next one will be better … Now we are out here and playing, it’s really nice to play a match and we know that it’s going to be fun … but it’s almost too crowded sometimes for us.”


Caroline Garcia took two sets to dispatch Aussie wild card Arina Rodionova

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Among the other early first-round winners at the Gippsland Trophy was former Top 10 player Daria Kasatina of Russia, who overwhelmed former Top 20 player Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania, 6-1 6-1 in just over an hour.

Meanwhile, former World No 15 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia fought back from the brink of defeat in her first-round match, outlasting Australian wildcard Astra Sharma 1-6 7-5 6-2 after falling behind 1-6, 3-5 and being two points away from a loss.

Six-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kanepi has posted a 15-2 record against players ranked outside the Top 100 last season.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus also staged a tremendous comeback in her opening match, storming back from 3-6, 0-4 down to overcome Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 3-6 6-4 6-4.

Sasnovich won 9 games in a row to attain a 3-0 lead in the third set before easing through the rest of the decider for the win.

Former Top Tenner Andrea Petkovic of Germany grabbed a hard-earned win, outlasting Italy’s Martina Trevisan, 6-1 3-6 7-5, to claim her spot in the second round and marking her first WTA main-draw match-win in 15 months.

Often injured, Petkovic only played one match last year and has now set up a meeting with No 3 seed Elina Svitolina on Monday.

Along with the Svitolina vs. Petkovic match, key Monday matches at the Gippsland Trophy include top seed Simona Halep against Anastasia Potapova and No 14 seed Coco Gauff against Jil Teichmann.

In a battle of teenage former junior Slam champions, Anastasia Potapova was the first winner of the day, 6-3 6-0, against America’s Whitney Osuigwe.

The Russian has been out of action since July due to ankle surgery and tweeted after her win: “Extremely happy to get my first win after the surgery, especially in Australia.”

There was as a resounding victory, too, for another Russian on a comeback from injury as former World No 10 Kasatkina prevailed over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-1 6-1.





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