Last year’s Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva survived a first-round scare to defeat promising young American Alison Riske 6-0 3-6 6-3 this afternoon.
The second seed is one of the players expected to mount a serious title challenge after her run to the final 12 months ago, where she lost to Serena Williams, but she will certainly have to raise her game from this performance.
There looked little danger when Zvonareva, who also reached the final at the US Open in a stellar 2010, wrapped up the first set to love after only 25 minutes.
The Russian’s placement and consistency were simply too much for Riske, whose seven wins on the WTA Tour have all come at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham.
But the 20-year-old dug in to hold serve for the first time at the start of the second set, and from there the momentum of the match changed.
Riske’s serve was proving a useful weapon but it was her willingness to move forward in the court and attack the net that really gave her the upper hand.
Suddenly it was Zvonareva who was making the mistakes off the ground and, after breaking in the sixth game, Riske had little trouble polishing off the set.
The American was promptly broken at the start of the decider but her whole-hearted approach had earned her many fans on Court One and she responded impressively to level at 2-2.
She then had a chance for a second consecutive break but she could not take it, and that would prove to be her last opportunity.
Zvonareva piled on the pressure in the eighth game to gain the crucial break before confidently serving out the victory to set up a second-round meeting with fellow Russian Elena Vesnina.
Meanwhile former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova fought back from a set down to defeat Zhang Shuai 3-6 6-3 6-4 while 19th seed Yanina Wickmayer saw off Varvara Lepchenko 7-5 6-3.
Seeds Kaia Kanepi and Shahar Peer were early casualties and American teenager Christina McHale buried the memory of her collapse from 5-0 up in the decider against Sara Errani at the French Open by knocking out 28th seed Ekaterina Makarova 2-6 6-1 8-6.
Britain’s Katie O’Brien won the first point on the new Court Three but little else in the first set as she crashed out 6-0 7-5 to 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who faces Venus Williams in round two.