WTA Bucharest: Vera Zvonareva makes a winning debut, Irina Begu crashes out

Jabeur upsets Begu, the defending champion. She will meet Zvonareva. Mihaela Buzarnescu, Sorana Cirstea and Irina Bara reach the second round

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Bucharest: Vera Zvonareva makes a winning debut, Irina Begu crashes out

Two days sufficed to see the biggest shock of the fifth edition of BRD Bucharest Open. Ons Jabeur outlasted 6-2 6-1 the defending champion Irina Camelia Begu, making her return along with seven other Romanians to the clay courts of Arenele BNR, in less than an hour.

She's expected to face Russian Vera Zvonareva who made a successful debut at the BRD Bucharest, managing to score a 6-1 6-2 win in just 68 minutes over fellow Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova. The former world No.2 won the only previous meeting to open her campaign at 2015 Australian Open.

2016 runner-up and this year’s top seed Anastasija Sevastova went on the edge of defeat as Dalila Jakupovic gained a 3-0 lead in the deciding set but managed to stage the fourth comeback win of the season. The Latvian completed a 4-6 6-2 7-6(1) victory and conquered the sixth victory in a third-set tiebreak to 11 defeats.

She will now meet Arantxa Rus who has won just one of her last five meetings against a Top 30 opponent. No.2 seed Mihaela Buzărnescu moved to the second round after a comfortable 6-2 6-4 victory over Danka Kovinic, her 30th WTA main draw win of the season.

“I'm delighted to play for the first time in the main draw here,” said Buzarnescu, two victories shy of her 400th career success at all levels. “I'm glad that fans came to support us and happy that I have managed to win this match.

First round is always very important, especially because it's my home tournament at home. I expected a tough match and played my game well”. Ranked barely inside the Top 400 at the start of last summer, the 30-year-old has impressed on all surfaces this season, finishing runner-up at Hobart and Prague, and more recently reaching the semi-finals at the Premier-level grass court event in Birmingham.

She clinched 85% of points on her first serve and 80% on second deliveries in a one-sided opening set. Kovinic managed her service games more easily in the second set, she began to find drive and depth, to play with more margins and managed to attack Buzarnescu's lefty forehand with increasingly effective crosscourt backhands.

The Romanian managed to seal a break in the middle of the set and served for the match at 5-2 but she closed out the match two games later with an unreturned serve. Buzarnescu will meet Tamara Zidansek, bidding to extend her 2-0 win-loss record in the head to head series.

“She's a very young and talented player, with an offensive game,” she said. “Let's see how the match will go tomorrow". Local qualifier Irina Bara completed a 6-4 7-5 victory over the Bulgarian Viktoryia Tomova.

She will meet No.8 Polona Hercog from Slovenia, who beat another Romanian player, Elena-Gabriela Ruse, in the opening round. “We are used [to play against the crowd]” she said yesterday, “I expected that there would be more support for her but I heard some people also cheering for me”.

Bara, who sealed five points in a row to seal the first set, dictated the game and maintained her competitive edge using down the line sliced strokes alongside countee-footing volleys. Coached by her father, Bara took tennis seriously when she was 14, she confessed in a detailed interview for the tournament website.

“My father also played professionally and he understands exactly what I am going through on the court. Not only technically or tactically, but also emotionally. The mental part is very important in tennis.” A close friend with Mihaela Buzarnescu, who partnered her at Roland Garros where they reached the doubles' quarter-finals, Bara “used to like Justine Henin a lot when I was a kid, exactly for this reason: she was smaller, but she was fast and had a very elegant game.

Now Simona [Halep] is an inspiration for me, and not only me. Everyone should look up to her. I wish I could achieve half of what she has achieved.” Aiming to climb into the Top 50, she learned from Halep's example who drove the national tennis movement in a country where tennis was often considered too upper middle class to be totally embraced in the Soviet bloc.

The No.5 seed Sorana Cirstea gave the crowd further reasons to sing in exultation as she completed six breaks from eight looks to topple Turkish qualifier Cagla Buyukakcay 6-3 6-3, relying on a quite consistent 64% of second serve points won.

Cirstea will face for the first time Maryna Zanevska aiming to claim her 70th main draw career win on clay and reach the second quarterfinal of the season after she lost to Alison Riske via retirement in Nurnberg.


Irina Begu Mihaela Buzarnescu Sorana Cirstea