DUBAI - Flavia Pennetta, the former top 20 Italian, provided a substantial payback to organisers, which gave her a wild card, by recovering dramatically from a large deficit and near tears to win her first round match at the Dubai Open.
Pennetta's attempts to enter the US$2,500,000 (S$3.4 million) Premier 5 tournament had only happened after the official deadline, and after getting her belated acceptance she responded with an emotional 2-6, 7-6(7-3), 6-4 win over Germany's Julia Goerges, also a former top 20 player, to score her first victory of the year.
Goerges had also been fortunate to make the main draw, qualifying only as a lucky loser, but seemed certain to make further progress when she led by a set and 5-2 in the second.
"I was almost crying on the court - I was feeling so bad," admitted Pennetta. "Sometimes you don't feel good at the beginning of the year. My good tennis just was not coming."
There seemed little chance of it coming in this tournament when she slipped to 15-40 in the eighth game of the second set, but somehow she conjured two steadier rallies to save those two match points, and then saved two more after Goerges got advantage points.
After saving those two as well Pennetta claimed "I don't know how I did it."
She added: "I was just playing until the last point. I wasn't playing well but I was just playing with what I have.
"When you fight you can get closer to a good level. My coach says I am really tough, but it isn't easy to say what I really did (to survive) there."
Pennetta then appeared to take advantage of Goerges' disappointment as she followed her escape from match points by breaking serve immediately, then repeating the achievement, and going on to dominate the tie-break.
When Pennetta then reached 4-1 in the final set, the match looked nearly over, but Goerges gave it a twist by getting the score back on serve at 3-4 before playing two disappointing service games to concede defeat.
By then Pennetta's standard had gone up - though "it's still not good yet," she said - and Goerges's had dipped a little.
"At least I had two hours and ten minutes on court and a little bit of my tennis was coming," concluded Pennetta, who next plays the winner of Wang Qiang of China and Kurumi Nara of Japan, and could progress to a last 16 meeting with another German, Angelique Kerber, the world number ten.
Earlier there were wins for Samantha Stosur, the former US Open champion from Australia, who earned a second round meeting with Caroline Wozniacki, the world number five from Denmark; also for Svetlana Kuznetsova, the former French and US Open champion from Russia, and for Sabine Lisicki, the former Wimbledon finalist from Germany.
The titleholder Venus Williams begins her defence tomorrow (Tuesday) against Belinda Bencic, the 17-year-old former French Open and Wimbledon junior champion from Switzerland.