Kristina Mladenovic went up against qualifier Elise Mertens in the first round matchup in St. Petersburg. The last time the pair met, Mertens delivered a dominating performance to send Mladenovic crashing out of Hobart International earlier this month.
This time round she looked to do that as she took the lead in the first set. However, despite having chances to serve out the set twice, the Belgian failed and Mladenovic eventually won the ensuing tiebreak to take the first set. The second set saw more breaks but the Frenchwoman got a late break in and eventually closed out the victory beating Mertens 7-6(5), 6-4.
Mertens squanders her chances allowing Mladenovic to edge the tiebreak
Mertens was off to a great start capitalizing on a nervy start by Mladenovic to gain the early break and go 2-0 up. It was all looking downhill for the Frenchwoman in the early stages who struggled to win points on her own serve as the Belgian won 10 straight points in a row before Mladenovic stopped the rot and eventually got on board for 1-2.
Mertens then had a poor game of her own unable to find first serves and Mladenovic punishing second serves with massive returns and got the break back to level for 2-2. The Frenchwoman was in the zone now winning her third game in a row to nose ahead for the first time for 3-2. The Belgian dug out an important hold before putting the pressure back on the Mladenovic serve. It was the Frenchwoman’s turn now to struggle and Mertens took advantage to break and went on to consolidate for a 5-3 lead.
A delightful backhand down the line winner handed Mertens a couple of chance to take the first set in the ninth game. The Frenchwoman, however, stepped it up to save both. The Belgian then had another opportunity but Mladenovic dug deep before coming up with a big hold to keep herself in the set. The pressure though got to Mertens, who was serving for the set, and Mladenovic came up with some big shots to create chances to break back. Mertens fended off the first but caved in with an unfortunate double fault to allow Mladenovic to get back for 5-5.
Mladenovic then had another difficult game and was unable to fend off the Belgian who once again broke to go in front 6-5. At her second attempt to serve the set out, Mertens was again put under pressure. A fiery return gave Mladenovic a couple of set points but she missed the first with a loose backhand slice. The Frenchwoman capitalized on the second to force a tiebreak. In the tiebreak, it was Mladenovic who raced to a commanding 4-0 lead. Mertens tried to fight back but handed Mladenovic a couple of set points. Mertens saved the first but on her own serve the Frenchwoman eventually took it to seal the first set 7-6(5).
A set of breaks goes the way of the Frenchwoman
The second set started with service holds before it began to unravel for both players. Neither player looked to hold serve as the set saw four consecutive breaks. Mladenovic though eventually held her serve to level it 4-4. And in the next game, she kept up her aggressive play and was rewarded with the crucial break. Mertens could not find a way past and the Frenchwoman closed out the victory on her own serve to advance to the second round.