In a repeat of the Australian Open first round, 14th seed Kristina Mladenovic faced off against good friend Ana Konjuh in the first round at the Mutua Madrid Open. In that previous meeting, it was the Croatian who came up tops with a straight sets victory. Looking to reverse the result was the Frenchwoman who was coming off from a finalist run at Stuttgart.
Konjuh meanwhile had yet to get her clay season fully going and it showed as it was Mladenovic who made the brighter start. The Croatian though found her rhythm eventually and grabbed the first set after coming back from 2-5 down. The second set was a much tighter affair and a poor seventh game from Konjuh allowed Mladenovic to break before closing out the set. However, the Croatian seemed to have a concern and thereafter retired allowing the Frenchwoman to advance to the second round.
Mladenovic cruising but slips up and Konjuh takes advantage
Mladenovic was solid on serve at the start of the match. She was serving up love holds while Konjuh struggled in her service games. A poor fourth game from the Croatian then gave the Frenchwoman triple break points and Mladenovic dispatched a backhand down the line winner to claim the first break. She followed it up with her third love service hold to open up a 4-1 lead.
Konjuh’s struggles on serve continued and she found herself 0-30 down again. However this time, the Croatian managed to claw back and hung on for 2-4. Mladenovic once again seemed to be cruising on serve but for the first time Konjuh managed to win points on the Mladenovic serve even pushing her to deuce but the Frenchwoman remain composed to extend her lead to 5-2. The set looked to be Mladenovic as she went 30-0 up serving for the set at 5-3. However, she let the lead slip and almost out of nowhere Konjuh got her first break point and the Frenchwoman’s error gave the break back to the Croatian.
There was a momentum shift in the air and Konjuh won her third game in a row with a comfortable hold to level the set 5-5. The Croatian was well settled by now and putting pressure on the Mladenovic serve. It paid off as the Frenchwoman faced a couple of break points. Konjuh converted the second of those to edge ahead for the first time in the set. And she completed the comeback, winning her fifth game in a row to snatch the first set 7-5.
Tighter set and one poor game allows Mladenovic to pounce
Trying to stop the rot of games was the Frenchwoman serving first in the second set. She was up 40-0 but let Konjuh in with a couple of errors and the Croatian had an early break point. Mladenovic’s serve came to her aid and she held as Konjuh’s run of games came to an end. The Frenchwoman then had a chance of her own carving break point in the fourth game but Konjuh was up to the task saving it with a good one-two punch and hung on for 2-2.
Both players then looked to have tightened up their serves as the match progressed on serve. Konjuh was the first to buckle though in a really poor seventh game where she hit four double faults, practically gifting a crucial break to the Frenchwoman. And Mladenovic made no mistake this time sealing the set 6-3 without much trouble to force the decider.
However, there was no decider played as Konjuh then retired citing an abdominal injury and Mladenovic advanced.