Two of the favourites for the China Open title began their campaigns in emphatic fashion on Sunday.
Serena Williams and Li Na, seeded first and fourth respectively, were the star attractions on Day 2 of the final Premier Mandatory event of the year. Although the China Open is a joint WTA/ATP tournament, the men’s matches were still at the qualifying stage, so the women occupied all of the prime show court slots.
After Agnieszka Radwanska’s hard-fought win over Stefanie Voegele
, Li took on Daniela Hantuchova in the National Tennis Stadium. China’s top player is a superstar in her home country, and tickled the crowds during a charity exhibition match against Novak Djokovic at the weekend. Yet she is also under a lot of pressure to produce the goods on home soil, and her fervent fans were worried ahead of her clash with Hantuchova: she had lost four of her previous six matches with the Slovak veteran.
However, much to everyone’s relief, Li was in sublime form on Sunday. Looking businesslike and determined, the world number five completely outclassed Hantuchova and at one stage was on course for a rare double bagel. Countering her opponent’s flat hitting with pinpoint serving and controlled aggression, Li won the first ten games to establish a commanding 6-0, 4-0 lead.
Intent on avoiding a humiliating scoreline, Hantuchova fought back as Li’s concentration wavered. But the Wuhan resident regrouped just in time to complete a 6-0, 6-4 victory in one hour, 25 minutes. She admitted afterwards that she relented her grip on the match with the finish line in sight.
“I saw it was 4-0 and I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I should relax a little bit.’ But at this level you cannot do this - it just gives your opponent a chance to get back into it. But I’m happy I could win in the end and at least pass through the first round.”
Serena Williams wasn’t quite as dominant in her opening match, but she still managed to beat the dangerous Elena Vesnina comfortably. After letting go of a 4-1 lead in the first set, she tightened her game to win it 6-4 and run through the second 6-2. The Russian took advantage of a decidedly average serving performance from Serena to break twice, but the US Open champion was far too strong from the back of the court.
Serena will play a familiar foe next: Francesca Schiavone. She has faced the Italian eight times in total and thrashed her in both Toronto and New York last month. In contrast, Li could have a much tougher time in the second round. She will play Bojana Jovanovski, the world number 39 who has won two lower-tier titles in the last three weeks.
Also on Sunday, three of the WTA’s most promising young players posted impressive wins. The USA’s Madison Keys, 18, beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3, while 19-year-old compatriot Lauren Davis edged Mona Barthel 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. Fellow 19-year-old Laura Robson put the disappointment of last week’s early loss in Tokyo behind her with a gutsy three-set win over the experienced Klara Zakopalova. The British number one goes on to play seventh seed and Tokyo finalist Angelique Kerber in round two.
Finally, there were mixed fortunes for a couple of struggling seeded players on Day 2 of the China Open. Sabine Lisicki has won only three matches since reaching the Wimbledon final, but the 13th seeded German got a much-needed confidence boost when she beat qualifier Chanelle Sheepers 6-3, 6-2. Sam Stosur, on the other hand, failed to clear the first hurdle in Beijing. The Aussie fell to Lucie Safarova for the second week in a row, and is now on the verge of dropping out of the top 20.
The standout match on Monday at the National Tennis Center is the first round contest between second seed Victoria Azarenka and Andrea Petkovic. A feverish Azarenka fell meekly to Venus Williams in Tokyo last week, and she’ll need to be fighting fit again to get past the wily Petkovic. On the Moon Court, fans will have the ultra-rare opportunity to watch Venus and Serena play doubles outside of a Grand Slam. The sisters have won 13 major titles together, but haven’t teamed up on the WTA Tour since Madrid 2010.
China Open Round 1 results, Sunday 29th September
3-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) beat Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland) 4-6 6-4 6-4
4-Li Na (China) beat Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia) 6-0 6-4
1-Serena Williams (U.S.) beat Elena Vesnina (Russia) 6-4 6-2
Madison Keys (U.S.) beat Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) 6-4 6-3
Lauren Davis (U.S.) beat Mona Barthel (Germany) 6-0 5-7 6-4
Laura Robson (Britain) beat Klara Zakopalova (Czech Republic) 7-6(3) 4-6 6-1
13-Sabine Lisicki (Germany) beat Chanelle Scheepers (South Africa) 6-3 6-2
Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) beat 15-Samantha Stosur (Australia) 7-5 6-3
Maria Kirilenko (Russia) beat Zheng Jie (China) 7-5 6-2
Kaia Kanepi (Estonia) beat Julia Goerges (Germany) 7-5 6-4
Misaki Doi (Japan) beat Silvia Soler Espinosa (Spain) 6-1 6-1