Barbora Strycova started off her title defence with a straight sets win over Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens 7-6(4) 7-6(3) in the opening round of Linz.
The Czech defending champion had to make the long journey from playing the China Open last week, where she won the title in the doubles, to attempting to defend the title of last year in Linz.
At the beginning of the match it was looking more and more like Strycova was going to struggle to rediscover the same form that she showed this time last year. She wasn’t too far away from Flipkens in terms of the quality of their tennis within the rally, but Flipkens was winning all the tight duels, clinching all the big points and that helped her along the way of getting that double break advantage to try to hold on to.
The former Wimbledon semifinalist Flipkens really did look in the ascendancy, winning five of the first six games and she had that insurance break lead in case things did not totally go to plan, but not many people could have been prepared for the momentum change that was about to come. The question really was whether the Belgian could maintain the consistency off the slice, the coolness under pressure when the serve-it-out question was asked and she simply did not have the stability on the big points to pull through in the opening set. Flipkens originally held a set point at 5-1 before getting broken and had three more set points at 5-4, two at 15-40 and another one at advantage, but Strycova dug deep and looked like she really wanted the win.
Things were not going according to plan, but there was a real desire to not come out second best for Strycova and you could sense that in her body language between the points and her reactions to winning each and every point. That fight, and some inspired points in the first set tiebreak was what guided her to turning the first set around.
The second set followed a pattern of missed chances. The Belgian took the break in the first game of the 2nd set, but got pegged back immediately, but there was plenty of chances for that momentum to swing one way or another, with plenty of break point chances on offer, and the match really turned into more of a physical battle. The speed of the courts allowed the points to really be stretched out and that is how we saw the two players use different ways to win their points, showing their variation, displaying the deftness at the net and really showcasing that there are alternatives to winning points other than brute force from the baseline.
Strycova has always talked about not possessing the god-given gifts of being able to overwhelm her opponents, so she plays to her strengths and wins points and matches her own way, and she showed that when the match got increasingly tough to call in the 2nd set tiebreak. The Czech managed her position at the net, was more clinical in the forecourt, and managed to raise her level to a place that Flipkens could not live with in both tiebreaks. A perfectly timed net rush on match point was all that was needed for Strycova to make the start she wanted in only the second time she is attempting to defend a WTA title. It is a huge week for her and she will want some singles form to back up the fine doubles run she is on.
The defending champion talked extensively about the way the match turned out, and discussed the rare feeling of returning to a tournament as a singles defending champion. Strycova has only been in this particular situation on one occasion before and that was when she attempted to defend her 2011 title in Quebec indoors.
“Well, even if I was losing 5-1 down, I was feeling good on court and every game was very, like, on deuce and we were fighting for every game. So I was playing pretty good, so I was like ‘okay, that’s be a little patient, with the rallies’ and let’s see how it goes. I was very pleased to win the first set because it was very important and a very physical match.”
“Well, of course you have it in your head that you can play good here. I had great matches here and I had it in my head. I wanted to use it in a positive way that I did not want to give myself the pressure that because I played well last year that I have to do it again. I know Kirsten since we were 10 years old. We grew up on tour and I knew it was going to be a tough match, because she knows me so good and I know her as well. Every match here, to win, is a bonus for me. When the match went, I felt a little bit more in my legs. It was also because I arrived on Monday from China. It is not easy to get used to the timing. It is so different. I was pleased to finish it in two sets because I felt it in my legs.”
Barbora Strycova will now face the lucky loser Kristyna Pliskova, a fellow Czech, in the second round of the tournament in Linz.
Embed from Getty Images