Sania Mirza made a winning return to the WTA Tour with a 6-0, 6-4 win over local hope Ayumi Morita in the opening round of the AIG Japan Open in Tokyo.
Mirza, sidelined by a wrist injury following her third round loss at the US Open last month, showed no sign of rustiness – blazing through the first set without dropping a game.
The Indian then seemed to let down her guard, with the 17-year-old Morita breaking Mirza’s serve in the very first game of the second set. A game later, the Japanese player was two points away from leading 3-0.
But Mirza, ranked 29 in the world, came back strongly to take the next three games and then broke Morita in the eighth game to lead 5-3.
Serving for the match, Mirza was broken again but recovered to break back and vanquish the 139-ranked Morita in little more than an hour.
It had been Mirza’s 29th win on the WTA Tour this year as opposed to 16 losses.
Up next for the 20-year-old from Hyderabad is 84-ranked Australian Cassey Dellacqua, whom she has never played before.
MIRZA’S RANKING TAKES A HIT
Thanks to her unplanned break from tennis, Mirza’s singles ranking slipped to 29 on Monday – two places down from her career-best 27 in late August. Her doubles ranking has also taken a beating with Mirza now down to 20th in the world. A good result at the Japan Open should reverse the ebb in rankings.
TOURNAMENT PREVIEW AND POSSIBLE OPPONENTS
The $175,000 Tier III event at Tokyo has been happy hunting ground for Mirza, who upset top-seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva to reach the semifinal in her only previous appearance here in 2005.
This time around, Mirza is seeded second and one of the favourites to lay hands on the $25,840 winner’s purse and 140 valuable WTA points.
In the quarterfinals, Mirza could run into eighth seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta whom she had beaten in their only career meeting in Paris last year.
But Mirza’s toughest test would lie in the semifinals where she’s seeded to play Maria Kirilenko (3) of Russia or Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano (5).
Razzano beat Mirza in straight sets in Los Angeles this year and is coming off a win at the Jinjiannan Guangzhou International Women’s Open. Also on a winning streak is Kirilenko, champion at Kolkata’s Sunfeast Open – a tournament doomed by Mirza’s absence and Twenty20 cricket.
Mirza leads 2-0 in career meetings against Kirilenko but the Russian is playing her best tennis – her fine run at last week’s Hansol Korea Open broken only by Venus Williams in the final.
Kirilenko’s spectacular results in September have also helped her overtake Mirza in the latest rankings.
Should Mirza survive, awaiting her in the final would be world no 8 Venus Williams, herself on a roll after the Seoul victory.
In the doubles event, Mirza is partnering little known American Christina Fusano and hopes to emulate her semifinal appearance here in 2005 when she partnered Israel’s Shahar Peer.