Former world number one Angelique Kerber suffered defeat at the hands of Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the first day of the WTA Elite Trophy on Tuesday, a rough start for the German at the season-ending tournament.
Pavlyuchenkova, seeded fourth, beat 29-year-old Kerber 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in one hour and 54 minutes at the Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre in southern China.
Eighth seed Kerber, who clinched both the Australian and US Open titles last year, still has a chance to qualify for the semis because of the round-robin format of the tournament.
Having struggled to find her feet in the first set, down 4-1 after the first five games, she managed to redeem herself in the second, gallantly holding serve in the third game and snatching a key break in game six before levelling the match.
The two traded service breaks at the start of the third set but it wasn’t long before the Russian had Kerber on the run.
“I was not playing good in the first set. I start to play my game actually in the second set, and then, yeah, I think at the end she won the deciding points,” she told media.
Earlier in the week the German, who has dropped from world number one in January to 19th, told AFP she had learned some lessons this year and was looking forward to a fresh start next season.
“I don’t think it’s the best year,” she told the post-match press conference.
“Today I was not able to play from the beginning my match and my game. So I was always having, like, up-and-downs, and that’s for sure not the game I can play.”
America’s Coco Vandeweghe earlier beat her Chinese wild card opponent.
The second seed downed China’s number one player Peng Shuai 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 55 minutes.
The 25-year-old had previously won only one match in her past four tournaments on Chinese soil.
She admitted starting off “sloppy” against Peng – the oldest player in the line up and ranked 27 in the world.
“Today was a survive and conquer kind of day, I really was playing not so well, very below average for the standard that I’m used to playing,” she told journalists.
“It’s a tough part of the year and a tough event... after the US Open it’s kinda, it’s, it’s rough, there’s no secret about that,” she said.
Peng had got off to a good start, securing the break in the second game and holding serve to give her a 3-0 lead.
But the American made a comeback in the second and third sets, losing serve just once.
“Today I felt that I played pretty well but then my opponent did even better,” said Peng, the crowd favourite, who also still has a shot at the semis.
The Elite Trophy features 12 players placed nine and below in world rankings, while those ranked eight and above made up the field for the WTA Finals in Singapore which ended Sunday.