In the last match of the of the opening day of the Elite Trophy, Daria Kasatkina from Russia, took on local wild card Wang Qiang in the first of the Azalea Group contests, and the top seed was fast out of the blocks but found herself nearly over-run in a topsy-turvy about turn to come through 6-1 2-6 7-5.
We always have big battles. I’m really happy today to win this match Daria Kasatkina
In less than half an hour she had won the first set, snagging 27 of the 40 points played.
The resistance that Wang, the Chinese No 1, had displayed in the opening few games dissipated as Kasatkina exerted her dominance, and without her coach, Peter McNamara, present, Wang struggled to find her form, having lost 5 games in a row with barely a point to her credit.
Her frustration mounted further at the start of the second and a net-cord that bounced out didn’t help her cause.
Despite having a game point on her opening serve, the break point against her was converted by the Russian, who broke her for the fourth time in a row and looked to be cruising but it merely served to galvanise the Chinese, who raised 2 break-back points with some flare that together with a double fault from Kasatkina gifted the game and offered her hope.
A second ace and a deft volley helped Wang to hold, and suddenly there was a different player on the court as she carved out 3 more break point opportunities and smoothly converted the first to move ahead 3-1.
Now the Chinese was picking off winners on the fly, applying pressure on the Russian, who scraped back the next game only to drop her serve again as Wang went up 4-2 and held for 5-2.
Kasatkina called for her coach, Philippe Dehaes, but the pep talk had little effect as errors offered up 3 set points and Wang took took it on her 3rd opportunity.
Although the Russian led the head-to-heads 3-1 entering the match, all encounters had been tight, so she would not have been surprised at the turn-around.
The third set was a rip-roaring affair as, after 7 breaks of serve, both got off to fine starts with the rallies hotting up.
Nine consecutive breaks of serve followed, as Kasatkina and Wang were teeing off on each other’s serves and gruelling rallies tended to fall the returner’s way.
Wang came closer to holding serve during the middle stages of the set, possessing game points at 3-3 and 4-4, which could have given her important holds to stop the string of breaks and spur on momentum.
In each of those instances, though, the Chinese fired an unforced error to give Kasatkina the opportunity to get through those games, which the Russian always took.
Finally, it was Kasatkina who pulled her service together at the very end, firing an error-forcing forehand down the line at 30-30 to gain an infrequent game point on her serve, also her first match point, and a forehand error by Wang wrapped up the encounter in favour of the Russian. 6-1 2-6 7-5, in just short of 2 hours.
“We always have big battles,” Kasatkina told the crowd after the match. “I’m really happy today to win this match.”