Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina came from a set down to beat Madison Keys in her opening match at the AGEL Open 2022 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Monday, while Ekaterina Alexandrova overcame Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova battled past Bernarda Pera, all in 3 sets.
Rybakina had lost to Keys at the French Open and Cincinnati earlier this year, but found a way to beat the American, 5-7 6-3 6-3, after 2 hours 14 minutes.
Keys went up a set and a break to build up a 7-5, 1-0 lead before Rybakina earned her first break in the second set, and then broke the American again to take a 3-1 lead.
The Kazakh held on to her next service games to level the match, making 5 fewer unforced errors than she had in the opening frame.
The decider featured sterling passing-shot winners by both in the early going, but Rybakina took command for good with her second break of the set for 3-2.
At 5-3, Keys fended off 3 match points with powerful groundstrokes, but Rybakina converted her 4th chance by following a big return up with a forehand winner that fell just inside the baseline, sealing the win and ending a 2-match losing streak.
A quarter-finalist in Ostrava last year, Rybakina won 60 percent of points returning the Keys second serve, and fired 7 aces in the process.
After Rybakina triumphed on Center Court, Czech Kvitova followed with a tight 6-3 2-6 6-4 win over another American, qualifier Bernarda Pera.
Kvitova, a former World No 2 who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, got off to a hot start on home soil against Pera, who began to pull her way back into the match at the tail end of the opener.
Now ranked 20, it took Kvitova just over 2 hours to prevail, 6-3 2-6 6-4, in her first meeting with 45th-ranked Pera, who has risen up the rankings this year after winning her first 2 WTA titles in Budapest and Hamburg.
The left-handed Czech raced out to a 5-0 lead with 2 breaks of serve before Pera pulled one back in the 7th game to reduce her deficit to 3-5.
After Kvitova saved a break point to hold serve and take the set, Pera earned an early break to go up 2-0 in the second, as 5 of the first 7 games went against serve before the American levelled at a set all.
A flurry of aggressive return games left Kvitova standing ahead by a break at 4-3 in the decider, but when Pera fired her first ace of the match to hold for 5-4, it put pressure on the Czech to serve out the match.
Homeland hope Kvitova was up to the task, firing her 10th ace to set up double match point, and her 11th ace to seal the win.
The Czech unleashed 35 winners to just 21 unforced errors in the match to advance to a meeting with 2nd-seeded Paula Badosa from Spain, against whom she is level in their 2 match head-to-head record.
Badosa, the World No 4, is one of the top 4 seeded players who received a bye into the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, fresh from her 2nd title of the year in Seoul last month, Russia’s Alexandrova knocked out former World No 1 Azarenka from Belarus, 6-4 4-6 6-2, after 2 hours and 18 minutes, to reach the 2nd-round and extend her winning streak to 6 consecutive matches.
Azarenka earned the first break to take a 3-0 lead, but Alexandrova broke back in the 5th game for 2-3 and, despite the Belarusian breaking for the second time after a 4-deuce battle to take a 4-2 lead, the Russian came back by winning 4 consecutive games to clinch the first set.
At 3-3 in the second, Alexandrova was millimetres from bringing up a break point, but a Hawkeye overrule denied her and, instead, Azarenka escaped with the hold, and surged through 3 games in a row to level the match.
Alexandrova had lost momentum from a winning position, but quickly regained it with a positive start to the decider, coming through a 6-deuce tussle to break Azarenka in the 3rd game, by catching the edge of the line with a stellar pass on her 3rd break point.
This time, in the tightest game of the set, Alexandrova did not relinquish her control, firing 7 of her 12 aces in the decider and sealing the deal on her 2nd match point with a service winner.
Alexandrova was ranked outside the top 50 for the first time since 2019, but has come back by reaching 2 semi-finals in Charleston and Madrid, while, in the past 4 months, she clinched 2 WTA titles in S’Hertogenbosch and Seoul, recording 29 wins to 10 defeats since April.
The Russian, now ranked 21, will face either her compatriot, Daria Kasatkina, the 5th seed, or 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who play on Tuesday.
In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Australian qualifier Ajla Tomljanovic defeated Zhang Shuai from China, 6-3 6-3, to meet top seed Iga Swiatek on Wednesday in round 2, while wild-card Tereza Martincova from the Czech Republic edged past Swiss Jil Teichmann, 7-6(1) 7-6(5), rallying from 0-4 down in the first set.
29-year-old Tomljanovic powered past Zhang, serving up 10 aces and winning 81 per cent of first serve points in a confident win as she closed out her win in 72 minutes to set up a second-round showdown against Swiatek, who has won both of their previous meetings.