WTA Birmingham: Elina Svitolina, Barbora Strycova through on Day 1

The action began in Birmingham today at the Aegon Classic, with eighth seed Barbora Strycova and second seed Elina Svitolina amongst those making it through on one of the hottest days of the year in Britain.

The tournament was in the news for all the wrong reasons before today, with the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and Karolina Pliskova all withdrawing from the tournament, though the action began to do the talking today with four main draw matches taking place.

Svitolina sees off tough Watson challenge

One of the most interesting matches of the day saw Elina Svitolina, now the highest seed left in the draw following Kerber’s withdrawal, take on home favorite Heather Watson, with the Ukrainian eventually prevailing in a tough three-set encounter.

The second seed was last on court at the French Open, where she fell to a  heartbreaking loss to Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, though she showed no signs of that tough loss in the opening set. Though Watson was putting up a spirited fight, Svitolina proved too strong after the two traded breaks early on, with a third break seeing her take the first set 6-2.

Things were not as easy in the first set as the scoreline suggests for Svitolina, as she found herself dragged into a battle against the Brit, whose level tennis was well above her ranking of 126th, with neither women dropping serve until the Ukrainian crumbled under the pressure at 5-5, and the Brit served out the set calmly in front of her home crowd to take the match to the decider.

Elina Svitolina in action during her first round win over Heather Watson in Birmingham (Getty/Ben Hoskins)
Elina Svitolina in action during her first round win over Heather Watson in Birmingham (Getty/Ben Hoskins)

Svitolina is not too comfortable on grass, with only four wins on the surface in her career, though she regained control of the match with a break early on in the decider, securing a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 win over the Brit. The Ukrainian will face qualifier Camila Giorgi or Natalia Vikhlyantseva in the next round.

Osaka gets opening win of the tournament over Davis

The first women through to the opening round was Naomi Osaka, though she did not find things easy as she edged past Lauren Davis in a final set tiebreak.

Osaka was on a five match losing streak heading into this opening round match, though she showed no signs of any lack of confidence early on as she broke three times to take the first set 6-1 against the American. However, there was a drastic turn of events in the second set, with Davis breaking twice and proving too strong for the error-prone Japanese as she took the second set 6-2, sending the match into a decider.

The deciding set was particularly messy, with neither woman playing too well, though it seemed that Osaka would safely make the second round when she built up a 4-2 lead. However, Davis performed a remarkable turnaround to win three games in a row and serve for the win, though another momentum swing saw the Japanese break back and forced a tiebreak, which she comfortably took 7-4 to get her first grass court win of the season with a 6-1, 2-6, 7-6 victory.

Two-time finalist Strycova safely sees off Putintseva

It seemed heading into this opening round encounter that Yulia Putintseva, a former French Open quarterfinalist, could push Strycova and potentially beat her, though the two-time finalist showed she could potentially go one step further with a comfortable first round victory.

Barbora Strycova in action during the Aegon Classic final last year (Getty/Steve Bardens)
Barbora Strycova in action during the Aegon Classic final last year (Getty/Steve Bardens)

Strycova, who lost in the final to Madison Keys last year, saved all of the three break points against her as she was simply too strong for the Kazakh. Two breaks of serve comfortably saw the Czech take the opening set, and she need only one break in the second set to seal a comfortable 6-3, 6-3.

With some big names out of the tournament this year, this could be a big opportunity for Strycova, who is one of the most comfortable grass court players on tour.

Broady sees off Cornet in front of her home crowd

Though many of the home crowd would have been disappointed following Heather Watson’s defeat, it wasn’t too long until they had something to cheer about, with Naomi Broady getting one of the best wins of her career over Alize Cornet.

The Brit didn’t get off to the best start, falling 0-3 down in the opening set after three tight games, though eventually broke back and simply had too much for Cornet in the closing stages of set, taking the tiebreak 7-3.

Naomi Broady celebrates her first round win over Alize Cornet (Getty/Ben Hoskins)
Naomi Broady celebrates her first round win over Alize Cornet (Getty/Ben Hoskins)

That first set loss seemingly disheartened Cornet, who became distracted and complained early on about not being able to see properly in the light. With Broady playing at her best, the Frenchwoman provided little resistance as the Brit stormed to a second set bagel, winning 7-6, 6-0 just as it began to rain.

There is a packed day of action tomorrow, with the likes of Petra Kvitova, Dominika Cibulkova, and Garbine Muguruza amongst those in action.