Two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova was forced to battle to a marathon 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 6-2 first-round win at the Portugal Open on Monday.
The Russian wild-card, who won the 2004 French Open and the US Open three years later, had to dig deep to see off US sixth seed Varvara Lepchenko.
Kuznetsova, now ranked 45th in the world, is playing the event proper for the first time in her career, but she did lose a qualifying match in her only previous visit in 2002. The 27-year-old was challenged by the standard windy conditions which are a part of this rebranded clay event — formerly the Estoril Open — and also had to deal with an unseasonable chill gripping the Iberian Peninsula. Kuznetsova won in just over two and a half hours, firing six aces and breaking Lepchenko six times.
She lost her own serve five times on the way to the struggling success.
“It was a very difficult match against Varvara. I had a lot of ups and downs, as she did,” the winner said.
“The conditions out there were very tough and it wasn’t easy to play. I tried to keep going, keep pushing, and in the end it went my way, so I was happy with that,” she added.
Spanish fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro dispatched Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-3, 6-0, while Russian seventh seed Elena Vesnina advanced comfortably at the Estadio Nacional over local Maria Joao Koehler 6-4, 6-1.
The 2009 champion Yanina Wickmayer passed the first hurdle as she beat Anna Tatishvili of Georgia 6-1, 7-5.
Japan’s Ayumi Morita beat British debutant Laura Robson 6-2, 7-5, leaving the teenager winless on the WTA since early April.
France’s Marion Bartoli heads the WTA field in the pre-French Open event, ahead of Slovak Dominika Cibulkova.
In the men’s draw, Spain’s David Ferrer takes the top seeding after being drafted in as a late replacement for ailing Argentine Juan Martin del Porto, who is suffering with a stomach virus, but is expected to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.
Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, semi-finalist a year ago in his Portuguese debut, is seeded second. The top four men’s seeds get byes into the second round.
The Swiss admitted he fancied his chances as he plays his second European event on clay after knocking Andy Murray out in Monte Carlo.
“It’s my second year here and I am happy to be back. I hope to play well, and keep improving my game and ranking this year,” Wawrinka said.
Wawrinka has announced that he will be coached by Sweden’s Magnus Norman, a former French Open finalist who last guided Robin Soderling, who is out of the game since July, 2011, with glandular fever.
However, Norman will only come on board with Wawrinka later this month in the practice week before the May 26 start at Roland Garros and work with the No. 16 at major events.
On court, French sixth seed Benoit Paire beat Igor Sijsling 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, while compatriot Eduardo Roger-Vasselin advanced when Gilles Muller quit injured trailing 6-1.