St Petersburg | Kontaveit, Bencic and Mertens edge tough openers

Play got under way at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Monday, with Anett Kontaveit, Belinda Bencic and Elise Mertens all reaching the second round without mishap, although all faced tough openers.

It was a very tight match. It could go either way, it was a battle - it's always difficult against her but I just kept fighting. I think I raised my level a little bit in the second and third sets. I stepped more into the court, the service was a bit better and I ran better. Elise Mertens

Kontaveit, the 2nd seed from Estonia, needed 3 sets and nearly 2 hours to get past Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, eventually coming through, 6-3 1-6 6-3.

Another Swiss, 5th-seed Bencic, had to come from 3-0 down in her 3rd set to force a tiebreak and defeat local Russian favourite, Veronika Kudermetova, 6-2 4-6 7-6(5), while Mertens, the No 8 seed from Belgium, also came from a break down in the third to beat Alizé Cornet from France, 3-6 6-2 6-4.

Kontaveit and Teichmann traded breaks in the first set before the Estonian grabbed a second to take the lead.

The Swiss retaliated in the second as Kontaveit’s level dropped, winning only 33% of her second-serve points and facing 7 break points and while she saved 5 of these, she couldn’t stop Teichmann winning the set to level the match.

Kontaveit upped her level in the decider, in which she did not face a single break point, and made good on 1 of the 5 break point chances she had on Teichmann’s serve to reach the round-of-16.

For a place in the quarter-finals, Kontaveit will take on either Czech Marketa Vondrousova or Sorana Cirstea from Romania.


Belinda Bencic edged her way past Veronika Kudermetova in a 3rd set breaker to reach round 2 in St Petersburg

© Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Teichmann’s compatriot, Bencic, meanwhile, went on to have a better outing in the Russian city, fending off Kudermetova after a 2 hours 22 minute battle to reach the second round.

Bencic, the 2016 runner-up, has been squaring off against fellow 1997-born Kudermetova since their teenage days, with the Swiss dominating their early rivalry, but the Russian turned it around at pro level before the pendulum swung again in the past 3 years.

The Swiss has now taken 3 consecutive tight three-setters over Kudermetova, although in this encounter there was a high unforced error tally for both, the Russian committing 84 to Bencic’s 67, but plenty of un-returnable serves and one-two punches balanced these and, ultimately, the Swiss tallied one more winner, 52, overall.

Bencic, however, dropped just 12 points on her first serve across the whole match, and only 1 in a dominant first set, but her percentage dipped in the second, allowing Kudermetova a foothold in the match, and a trio of double-faults at the start of the decider dug an even deeper hole for the Swiss.

Kudermetova’s own serve proved more vulnerable, and the Russian could not out-manoeuvre the former World No 4 in the longer rallies.

Bencic now will play either Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan or Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck.


Elise Mertens came from a set down and a break in the decider to fight her way past Alizé Cornet on Monday

© Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Another Belgian, Mertens, moved into the second round after eking out a tough win in her opener against the tricky Frenchwoman, Cornet, coming from a break down in the final set to claim her win in 2 hours 8 minutes.

Mertens had not beaten Cornet since 2018, having lost to the Frenchwoman in straight sets in both the 2019 Billie Jean King Cup and Charleston last year.

Cornet, who reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final in her 63rd attempt last month at the Australian Open, began confidently again, but was gradually reeled in over 2 hours and 8 minutes.

“It was a very tight match,” Mertens said later. “It could go either way, it was a battle – it’s always difficult against her but I just kept fighting.

“I think I raised my level a little bit in the second and third sets. I stepped more into the court, the service was a bit better and I ran better.”

Both fired 13 winners in the first set, but 37th-ranked Cornet kept a tighter ship with 14 unforced errors to Mertens’ 24.

One of the latter, a way-ward drop-shot attempt into the middle of the net, handed Cornet the crucial break of the set for 4-2, but a rejuvenated Mertens raised her level significantly in the second and third sets, finding 31 winners to 32 unforced errors.

Striking with greater accuracy, the Belgian brought up her first break points of the match in the second game and, although Cornet staved off the danger and found several touches of magic on the drop-shot, Mertens’ form was irresistible and the World No 26 came out on top of 3 consecutive deuce tussles from 3-2 to break Cornet twice and level the match.

As the pair engaged in all-court exchanges with increasing frequency, the contest built to a gripping climax.

Mertens twice went down a break, and trailed 3-2 after committing her 5th double fault, but she levelled at 3-3 after Cornet found the net with a backhand, and then put away an athletic drive volley to bring up a match point opportunity at 5-4, and sealed the win when Cornet sent her backhand wide.

Mertens will play either Russian wild-card Kamilla Rakhimova or Petra Martic from Croatia in the pre-quarter-finals.

The only match featuring non-seeded players at St Petersburg on Monday was between Camila Giorgi and another Russian favourite, Ekaterina Alexandrova, who moved past the Italian, 6-2 1-6 6-2, after an hour and 44 minutes, and she will play either top seed Maria Sakkari from Greece or compatriot Anastasia Potapova.




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