Natalia Vikhlyantseva put in one of her best performances of the year as she excelled in front of her home crowd at the Kremlin Cup, ousting Kaia Kanepi in two straightforward sets after only an hour of play. The Russian dominated play and recovered from an early deficit to triumph 6-3, 6-2, setting up a second-round meeting with compatriot and third seed Elena Vesnina.
Kanepi grabs the early lead
Some early nerves playing in front of a home crowd certainly played a huge part for Vikhlyantseva, who looked really nervous early on, which caused her to throw in a double fault to gift Kanepi break points. The Russian was unable to find her best tennis early on, sending a forehand long and allowed the Estonian to grab the early lead. Kanepi then consolidated the break in a lengthy service game, with Vikhlyantseva still unable to find a breakthrough.
Vikhlyantseva fights back
Nonetheless, as the match progressed, the Russian slowly settled into the conditions and the atmosphere, and she managed to find her best first serves which helped her get onto the scoreboard for the first time in the afternoon. Vikhlyantseva then started to play some smart tennis, using her powerful groundstrokes to attack the backhand of Kanepi, which is the weaker shot of her game. It was all about the Russian after she consolidated the break for a 3-2 lead with a bullet-like ace down the tee.
The set then went on serve until the eighth game, when Kanepi was the first to blink and allowed Vikhlyantseva to get the breakthrough. The 2017 US Open quarterfinalist started to misfire and looked nowhere near her best, with Vikhlyantseva blasting a forehand return winner past her opponent on break point. Eventually, the Russian was able to comfortably serve out the first set after 31 minutes of play.
Vikhlyantseva overcomes nerves to close out the win
Everything went wrong for Kanepi at the start of the second set, with Vikhlyantseva continuing to play freely without pressure and rode on her momentum to clinch the break in the opening game, leading by a set and a break. The Russian, aided by her powerful and surprising consistency of her serve, easily consolidated the break for a 2-0 lead. Vikhlyantseva edged closer to the win after grabbing a double-break lead, and she had a four-game advantage within a blink of an eye.
In front of her home crowd, the Russian had the golden opportunity to excel and impress herself after earning the golden opportunity to serve for the bagel in the second set. However, nerves and the pressure seemed to have gotten to Vikhlyantseva just when she attempted to serve out the match, with her backhand betraying her at the eleventh hour, allowing Kanepi to retrieve one of the breaks back. Nonetheless, the Russian youngster was able to close it out on the second time of asking, securing a love service hold to claim the win after exactly an hour of play.