Ana Ivanovic had to dig deep to win her first-round match at the ASB Classic today, needing 1 hour and 57 minutes to defeat American Alison Riske 7-5 7-6.
Riske put up an almighty fight against one of the main drawcards at this summer's tournament. The Serbian second seed came close to losing both sets.
However, as is so often the case when top players get themselves into trouble, Ivanovic worked out ways to get out of it and ended both sets playing aggressive tennis.
The success of this tournament depends heavily on Ivanovic and Venus Williams going deep in it. Although they've both won their first-round matches, neither was convincing.
The former French Open winner had two breaks of serve compared to one from Riske in the opening set and in the second both players struggled to hold their service games.
Ivanovic took a medical time out when 4-2 down in the second and had the physio work on her right shoulder.
There were fears that she wouldn't be able to continue, especially as players don't like to take any risks with injuries ahead of the Australian Open.
There was a huge sigh of relief from tournament organisers a couple of minutes later when she got up out of her chair to continue.
Ivanovic was still in a hole in the set though, and got herself into even more trouble when down 0-40 at 3-5. But she then pulled out some incredible tennis to hold serve.
She saved another set point in the next game to square it at 5-5 and not long after they were into a tiebreaker.
Like Williams last night, the more experienced player dominated at this point, with Ivanovic winning it 7-2 to set up a match against Johanna Larsson, of Sweden, in the second round.
It was another day full of drama at the ASB Tennis Centre with third seed Sorana Cirstea crashing out earlier in the day, losing to qualifier Sharon Fichman, of Canada 6-1 6-4.
Playing out on court four, the world No 22 from Romania never got into the match against Fichman, who was in her fourth match of the week.
By rights, the world No 116 shouldn't get close to someone of Cirstea's quality, but it's often said that those who come through qualifying at the classic are at an advantage because they've got matches under their belt and the higher ranked players come into the main draw cold.
That's an excuse 2010 tournament winner Yanina Wickmayer could use as she also lost on court four to a qualifier, going down to Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 6-0.
Also going out was the No 6 seed, Lucie Safarova, of the Czech Republic, who lost 7-6 6-3 to Japan's Ayumi Morita.
One seed who didn't have any problems yesterday though was the No 3, Kirsten Flipkens, of Belgium.
Her first-round opponent, Monica Puig, of Puerto Rico, was one of the tougher unseeded players she could have drawn, with the 20-year-old regarded as one the best young players on the circuit. Flipkens managed to take the match in two tight sets, winning 6-4 7-5.
"The first match of the season is always quite difficult," Flipkens said afterwards.
"But I had a good feeling on the court and what was most important for me was to have no pain on the knee, which I succeeded in."
The Belgian has been suffering from patellar tendon inflammation and has spent the last eight weeks rehabbing it.
"Winning didn't really matter today," she said.
"Of course, it's good to have an extra match going into the Aussie Open in a few weeks, so I'm feeling all right."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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