No amount of out-of-competition work can quite prepare you for dragging your aches and pains through a full day of tournament action.
Chennai was hosting its first Tour-level event in five and a half years. Bouchard was playing her first Tour-level main draw match in 18 months. Karman was playing her first Tour-level main draw match in four years.
Chennai seemingly passed the test. Eugenie Bouchard and Karman Kaur Thandi definitely did, beating Swiss Joanne Zuger 7-6(4), 6-2 and Chloe Paquet (Fra) 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 respectively to set up a second-round clash with each other. The victory will be extra special for Karman, for it was only her second-ever main draw victory.
“The win means a lot,” Karman said on-court after the win. “I could feel the energy of the crowd on the court. Will power and grit to fight, that’s what I showed.”
Bouchard sort of set the tone for the evening, with a victory to charm the sparse but enthusiastic crowd. The Canadian didn’t play a flawless match, but shaded the tennis when it mattered the most.
“I missed playing tennis,” Bouchard said after the win. “It’s the thing I love the most and I didn’t play for a year, something that had not happened since I was like 5. I did some commentary and stuff which I loved, but playing is what I want to do the most.”
Bouchard and Zuger traded breaks to start the match before the former established a 4-1 lead. Bouchard’s was the flatter stroke, hitting with near-zero net clearance. Zuger’s tennis was more controlled, but not as penetrative.
But the tables soon turned, as Zuger restored parity and even broke in the eleventh game to serve for the set. She came within a point of winning it but a crunching backhand down-the-line return winner from Bouchard erased the opportunity.
It deflated Zuger as Bouchard eased through the ensuing tiebreak. At 2-2 in the second set, the former Wimbledon finalist broke and never looked back, clinching the set 6-2.
“I tried to stay focussed and fought back,” Bouchard said. “The hot and humid conditions were the biggest challenge. I think it will take a while and a few tournaments for me to get back to form. I am just using every match to get better.”
Later, under relatively more pleasant conditions, Karman went 3-1 up in the first set only to let Paquet back and lose the set 4-6 by double-faulting on set point. But she shrugged off the setback admirably, breaking to love at 3-3 in the third set, with her two powerful forehand winners the standout shots.
Karman’s serve came under pressure immediately after, as Paquet earned a break point. But the Indian whipped a low ball for a fine forehand winner to get out of jail the level the match. In the third, Paquet was 2-0 up but Karman won six of the next seven games to coast to victory.
The results (first round): Eugenie Bouchard (Can) bt Joanne Zuger (Sui) 7-6(4), 6-2; Karman Thandi bt Chloe Paquet (Fra) 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; Rebecca Marino (Can) bt Anna Blinkova 7-5, 6-2; Katarzyna Kawa (Pol) bt Astra Sharma (Aus) 6-4, 6-3; Nao Hibino (Jpn) bt Jana Fett (Cro) 6-0, 6-4.