Former champion Ostapenko wins Eastbourne opener as Rybakina withdraws

Former champion Ostapenko wins Eastbourne opener as Rybakina withdraws


Ostapenko launched her bid with a gritty straight sets win over Greet Minnen.

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EASTBOURNE (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jelena Ostapenko launched her bid for a second Eastbourne title with a gritty straight sets win over Greet Minnen in the first round of the Wimbledon warm-up event on Monday, while top seed Elena Rybakina withdrew from the tournament.

Latvian fifth seed Ostapenko, the 2021 Eastbourne champion, defeated the Belgian qualifier 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 in just under 90 minutes on court.

There was a worrying moment for Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, when she fell on the grass midway through the second set but the world number 13 recovered to close out the win.

Ostapenko once won nine straight matches at Eastbourne, taking the 2021 title on England's south coast and reaching the 2022 final before her successful run was ended by Petra Kvitova.

"I think the surface suits me really well," Ostapenko said after Monday's match.

"The first time I played on grass, I was like, 'how can we play tennis on this surface? I don't understand what's happening here'. But then every year was better and better."

Asked about her fall, Ostapenko, 27, added: "Grass is a great surface, but sometimes it can be really slippery and really tricky. So I took the medical time-out just to make sure I'm fine."

The leading four players at Eastbourne were all given byes into the second round but top-seed Rybakina, the 2022 Wimbledon champion, withdrew from the event on Monday following what the WTA said was a "change of schedule".

Her decision to pull out meant 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin advanced into the second round as a "lucky loser".

The 25-year-old American will now play Britain's Harriet Dart.

A wildcard entry, Dart delighted the home crowd on Monday by outlasting former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Marie Bouzkova 7-5, 6-7 (7/9), 6-4 in a marathon encounter of nearly three-and-a-half hours.

In the parallel Eastbourne men's ATP Tour event, Chinese teenager Shang Juncheng won his first senior level grass-court match by defeating seventh-seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).

Meanwhile, Marcos Giron of the United States beat defending champion Francisco Cerundolo 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4) in two tie-break sets.