Elina Svitolina had too much rust to brush off in her opening round at the Nature Valley Classic on Monday.
The Ukrainian, who isn’t strong on grass, tried to make a comeback against Margarita Gasparyan. But she allowed the Russian to gain momentum and confidence to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 on Anne Jones Centre Court at the Edgbaston Priory Club.
It was the first win at the tournament for the 24-year-old and a huge upset to begin her journey.
This was a first time meeting and an important moment for the Ukrainian who didn’t finish the clay court season on a strong note.
The former World No.6 dropped down one spot with her third round defeat at Roland Garros. Two weeks have gone by with Svitolina trying to ease into the grass courts of England and make this season another point to improve her game on the surface.
The Russian gained some time in Holland playing two rounds before being defeated early in the tournament. With time to get used to the Birmingham atmosphere, the 25-year-old would look for a chance to get the best of the Ukrainian.
The match started on a positive note for the Russian as Svitolina committed two double faults to open the match on serve.
Gasparyan took advantage of that and forced deuce before it became easy to keep the AD point and clinch the break. She had no trouble consolidating it with a comfortable service game that put the Ukrainian on notice to recover quick.
She did after a third double came off her serve leading her to rally and secure her first hold of the set.
Gasparyan gifted the fourth to Svitolina with errors coming from her end of the court. The same problems occurred for the fourth seed that once again put Gasparyan ahead after the fifth.
After two consecutive breaks, the two got back to holding serve with one another. When the eighth game was concluded, it had the Russian up 5-3 over Svitolina, who was hunting down the opportunity for the break.
Two break points came to the Russian for the set but both were saved by the Ukrainian to force deuce.
Gasparyan fought to gain two more chances which put pressure on Svitolina to fall out of the first in 34 minutes having committed a fifth double that erased her only ace made in the match.
Svitolina’s overall serve was underperforming which dragged down the return game where she made just 2 of 16 back to Gasparyan.
The Russian’s 10 winners were another factor in her opponent’s troubles that she hoped to keep going into the second. Opening the set with a win was a good start for the Russian but getting a break to tie in was not in the cards.
Svitolina knew she couldn’t let anything get away from her and held the second. She converted a break to take the lead after three and opened the gap with another victory.
Svitolina had a four game winning streak under her belt showing tremendous improvements on the first serve. She soon had the set within reach scoring her fifth straight with Gasparyan serving to keep it alive.
She gained some ground back with a break in tow to sit two games down. Another attempt to save the set almost got away from her but somehow managed to force deuce in the ninth.
Svitolina fought back to avoid letting the game get away and won it after three breaks. It took her 36 minutes to force a decider that she knew would be critical to her advancing forward.
They each recorded a service hold to begin the third but knew that gaining a break would be essential to controlling the set. The first to get one was Gasparyan as she broke the fourth seed in the third and added two more to an impressive three-game streak.
The Russian had a good grip of the set and was on the verge of getting a serious statement in the record books against Svitolina.
In her attempt to go for a fifth win in a row, Svitolina forced deuce to open a break chance in the sixth. A drawn error from Gasparyan allowed the World No.7 to get the AD point and cut into her opponent’s lead.
A good hold for the Ukrainian made it a one game gap for Gasparyan as she allowed a second win into the hands of the fourth seed.
Three would not be the charm for Svitolina who was denied a break chance to level the score and served to avoid the match from ending. Gasparyan drew errors on the return to give Svitolina an easy finish to her serve in the ninth.
The Russian’s second chance at the match was the one that gave her victory, despite trailing in the tenth.
She climbed back to reach match point on an error from Svitolina before winning the first round with a net front winner that gave her the deserving win in 1 hour and 53 minutes.
With the chance to rile up the draw, Gasparyan would look to take her strengths into the second round facing the winner between Petra Martic and fellow compatriot Ekaterina Alexandrova.