Australian Open: Anna Blinkova battles past Monica Niculescu in a grueling match

Australian Open: Anna Blinkova battles past Monica Niculescu in a grueling match

The qualifier struggled with cramps in the later parts of the match but still managed to crawl over the finish line in a three-setter.

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Pavitra Ganesan

It was a first round matchup between the veteran, Monica Niculescu and the young qualifier Anna Blinkova. It was Blinkova’s main draw debut at the Australian Open and she was eager to make it a good one. For Niculescu, she was coming fresh off a runner-up finish at Hobart International looking to start her Grand Slam campaign on a good note as well.

189th ranked Blinkova was off to a brilliant start playing some great tennis to snatch the first set. Niculescu found some of her rhythm to fight back to take the second set. The third set was a real struggle for both players with the tough conditions but in the end, it was the Russian who emerged victorious defeating the Romanian 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 15 minutes.

Blinkova off to bright start

It was a shaky start from both players who exchanged breaks to start the set. After a series of comfortable holds, Blinkova stepped up her game and earned triple break points on the Romanian’s serve. Niculescu was unable to fend them off and succumbed to trail 2-3.

The Russian was confident with her shots and handling slices really well and soon Niculescu was down a double break to 2-5. Serving for the set, Blinkova almost blinked and gave one of the breaks back. However, she withstood the Romanian’s pressure saving a couple of break points before clinching the first set 6-2.

Blinkova takes the first set in impressive style | Photo: Pat Scala/Getty Images
Blinkova takes the first set in impressive style | Photo: Pat Scala/Getty Images

Niculescu nicks a close second set

Niculescu shrugged off the first set and earned an early break for a 2-0 lead. Blinkova then had chances to break right back smashing a return winner to set up double break points. She missed the first of those but buried another return winner to get the break back for 1-2. The match progressed on serve until the seventh game where Monica was forced to save a break point to hang on for 4-3.

Serving to stay in the set, Blinkova started to falter under pressure and despite having game points was pushed to deuce. Niculescu kept up the pressure and was patient in the rallies and eventually converted her set point to force a decider.

Niculescu forces a third set | Photo: Pat Scala/Getty Images
Niculescu forces a third set | Photo: Pat Scala/Getty Images

Brutal third set sees Blinkova come through

It was becoming a brutal match for both in the third set. The heat playing a huge factor as Blinkova began struggling with cramps while Niculescu looked exhausted as well. However, it was the qualifier who earned the first break in the set to go 3-1 up. Niculescu though was fighting hard as well and leveled it 3-3.

In a mammoth seventh game with both players struggling, the Romanian dug deep fending off multiple break points for an important hold to go ahead for the first time in the decider for 4-3. Despite doubling over after every rally, the Russian was still hanging on in the match. After having fought so brilliantly in her previous service game, the Romanian was misfiring and handed Blinkova with break points yet again. This time though the Russian converted on her first chance to take a crucial 5-4 lead. And Blinkova found it within her to serve out the match for a huge win in her young career.

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