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|Daria Kasatkina of Russia hits a return against Wang Qiang of China in their women's singles first round match of the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tennis tournament. (STR/AFP)|
The 21-year-old Russian looked totally dominant in the early stages in Zhuhai, wrapping up the first set against the Chinese eleventh seed in just 26 minutes.
But the vocal supporters at the Hengqin International Tennis Centre were given something to cheer about when Wang, 26, broke all four of Kasatkina's service games to claim the second set.
The deciding set saw some breathtaking points and rallies as each player tried to break the deadlock, but nerves appeared to take hold as both failed to win almost any of their service games.
Finally, after almost two hours on court, it was Kasatkina who held on to her serve at the crucial time to take the third and final set 7-5.
Asked what was going through her mind towards the end of the tie, Kasatkina told reporters: "The main goal was not to cramp at all.
"I was fighting against myself, against my body. And in the end I'm happy I was able to do this and went through."
Wang praised her opponent, singling out her defensive tactics and telling journalists: "Definitely she is a very strong competitor."
Tuesday night's clash was their first round robin match, with both yet to play American Madison Keys, ranked 16th in the world.
Kasatkina, who plays Keys on Wednesday afternoon, criticised the timetable.
"Of course I'm not happy with the schedule - it sucks completely!" she said.
"For example, some players are starting to play on Thursday, and I play two matches in a row after finishing my first match at 10 pm, and I play the next day. This is tough.
"I don't think it was right to make the schedule like this."
Wang, however, said that she felt "great" despite her loss to Kasatkina and felt she still had a chance to progress in the tournament.
"Whatever the result will turn out to be, I still can feel that I learned a lot and can also keep practising," she said.
Earlier, big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka, 20, was too strong for Australia's Ashleigh Barty, 22, in the opening singles clash, taking the match 6-4, 6-4.
The pair produced some spectacular base-line battles, but Sabalenka, from Belarus, turned the screw to see out the match in one hour, 26 minutes.
They are both yet to play eighth seed and world number 18 Caroline Garcia from France in their round robin group.
"I think I played well in the first set, and in the second set I probably started to rush a little bit and make a lot of mistakes, and kind of stupid mistakes," Sabalenka said after the match.
Asked about the strength of the field in Zhuhai, Barty said: "It's phenomenal. I think last year was good, but this year's another level.
"It's really exciting for the women's game. We have the top 20 players in the world this year who are fighting right until the end of the season, which is really positive."
In Tuesday's second singles match, fourth seed Elise Mertens from Belgium comfortably beat Estonia's Anett Kontaveit, the tenth seed, 6-3, 6-1.
Now in its fourth year the Elite Trophy features 12 players ranked roughly from nine to 20. This year's total prize money is $2.35 million across the singles and doubles tournaments.
Source: AFP/de Tagged Topics