Lucieeeeee! For the first time since the 30th of October, 2015, Lucie Safarova won a singles match on the WTA tour; coming from a set down, Lucie defeated Mariana Duque-Mariño, 3-6 6-3 6-3, in the first round of the J&T Banka Prague Open on Tuesday.
It’s been a tough time for Lucie after suffering from a nasty bacterial infection that hospitalised her towards the end of 2015. She then experienced complications which delayed the start of her 2016 season. Lucie came back in Doha but had been winless in singles with losses to Cagla Buyukakcay (6-7(6) 5-7, Doha), Yaroslava Shvedova (3-6 4-6, Indian Wells), Yanina Wickmayer (2-6 3-6, Miami), Louisa Chirico (3-6 3-6, Charleston) and Karolina Pliskova (6-7(4) 6-4 5-7, Stuttgart). Lucie’s last singles performance demonstrated a marked improvement as she pushed Pliskova deep into a third set.
In her Prague opener, Lucie lost the first set to an impressive, Duque-Mariño, 3-6. She didn’t play a bad set, but was rather reactive as the Columbian player dictated proceedings. Lucie had a confidence-boosting hold to open the second set, saving a break point, and then began to motor on her serve. In fact, after dropping serve in her opening service game of the match, Lucie enjoyed 12 consecutive holds. The serve is the crux of her game and this was such an encouraging sign to see her find such a solid rhythm on it. The first serve percentage was about 69% for the last two sets, but the second serve was holding up well.
When the serve’s on song, it impacts positively on all aspects of her game; there was a big step-up from the first set as she started to come forward and dictate play, firing away plenty of forehand winners, which she was timing beautifully… it really looked like a weapon again! Lucie earnt the vital break of serve up 3-2 in the second set. She set up the break point with a crashing backhand winner and then converted with a dinked winner after Duque-Mariño’s shot had clipped the net, forcing the Czech player to react. The serve helped Lucie to wrap up the second set without any obstacles.
Lucie carried that momentum into the decider where she got the break of serve immediately. Duque-Mariño began to look a little tired, struggling to have the same effectiveness on her backhand slice that she had had in the first set. There were a couple of ups and down in the third set; Lucie was forced to save two break points up 3-2, one with a big forehand winner and the other with an ace. Lucie is one of the best at saving break points, aided by the serve. She also had two break points in the next game at 4-2 but couldn’t convert. As good as the break point saves are, Lucie’s conversion rate is never a strength! The return is one area that Lucie has really struggled with in 2016. There were still a lot of missed returns but she did manage to carve out some opportunities in the second and third sets.
The potentially nerve-jangling game came at 4-3 in the third set, serving after the disappointment of missing break points in the previous game.. Normally this spells trouble but Lucie enjoyed a comfortable hold and it proved to be decisive. Lucie then broke for the third time in the match to seal her first singles victory of 2016. You could see how much this win meant to her at the end and the squeal she made after shaking hands with the umpire was everything… a really heartwarming moment!
Currently ranked at number 16 in the world, Lucie faces some big points to defend in the next month. Roland Garros looms on the horizon, but the outlook is positive… she looks healthy and has shown great improvement, particularly since the loss to Chirico where she looked a few steps slow. Lucie has looked much sharper in her last two singles matches and against Duque-Mariño, she chased down some balls I don’t think she would have got to a few weeks ago. The improvement has surely been helped along with all the doubles she has played recently with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sabine Lisicki.
Lucie is back in action on Wednesday where she plays Lucie Hradecka in the second round of the J&T Banka Prague Open. While Lucie has lost her last seven matches against Czech players (stretching all the way back to Wimbledon 2014!), this is actually a good match-up as she has won all three previous encounters against Hradecka. It will be an interesting match and will depend on Lucie’s recovery after her first rounder which lasted over two hours. I hope that Lucie can put up another great fight.
Well done, Lucie and keep fighting! Team Safarova is rooting for you all the way 😀