Dubai: Marion Bartoli, who thought she might be out for six weeks after injuring her calf at the Australian Open, returned after only four with a morale-boosting first round win at the Dubai Open on Monday.
The former Wimbledon finalist from France overcame Kimiko Date-Krumm, the former Wimbledon semi-finalist from Japan, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4 after saving three set points in the first set.
Even though that swung the match Bartoli's way, Date-Krumm still made a break-back in the second set and, at the age of 40, played so many spirited rallies that the two-set contest went well over two hours.
It was also an unusual encounter in that both players showed ambidextrous abilities -- Bartoli striking the ball with two hands on both wings, and Date-Krumm occasionally using her left hand to return a wide ball on her double-handed backhand side.
"It's a great relief to come up with a win," Bartoli said. "For two weeks I was on crutches.
"My house is on four levels with three stairs, so I couldn't climb the stairs. It was quite a bad injury."
There was absolutely no legacy from that, except that Bartoli appeared to have spent some of her time away from the tour losing weight and getting fitter.
Indeed, she spent significant amounts of the match containing or defending -- not normally her forte -- and played several of the most crucial points of the tie-break with consistency and tenacity.
During that Bartoli had landed in trouble by serving a double fault to go three points to four down, but after trailing 4-6 she saved two set points, first producing a fine backhand drive winner and then a steady enough second serve to induce Date-Krumm to return into the net.
Bartoli did, however, have a large slice of luck with the third set point against her when Date-Krumm, leading 8-7, manoeuvred herself a shortish ball from the French woman -- only to overhit from a good position.
She was also fortunate on her own second set point when Date-Krumm took a high backhand overhead volley from a Bartoli lob which appeared to be going out -- and put it into the net.
There was further tension when Date-Krumm got back from 1-3 down to 3-3 in the second set and in the following game called for the trainer to look at a painful foot.
Bartoli responded by calling for her father-coach Walter.
"He is very calm when I am nervous sometimes," she said. She might, she added, buy him a nice watch on his birthday Tuesday.
He seemed to help, and despite slipping to break point down four times in her next service game, she saved them all well. She also closed the match out at the first attempt two games later, with an ace.
Asked if she too would want to go on till she was 40, Bartoli replied: "I don't know about that, but she's pretty amazing when you see how fit she is. All the best to her."
She next plays Timea Bacsinszky, a 21-year-old Swiss player, with the winner likely to earn a last 16 encounter with Agnieszka Radwanska, the top ten from Poland.
Later Svetlana Kuznetsova, the former French Open and US Open champion, came through in the same quarter of the draw when she overcame Nuria Llagostera Vives, a Spanish qualifer, 6-4, 6-2.