(Reuters) – American Danielle Collins overcame former world number one Venus Williams in the opening round of the Wuhan Open on Sunday while defending champion Aryna Sabalenka advanced with ease.
Collins, who had defeated compatriot Williams in their only previous meeting in Miami last year, fired 32 winners to grind out a 7-5 7-6(5) victory over the seven-times Grand Slam champion.
“I just tried to play point by point, not think too much about the future, just stay in the present and do the best that I could,” Collins said.
The 25-year-old will next take on ninth seed Sabalenka who showed power and precision to get past Belarusian compatriot Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1 6-2.
Sabalenka, who won the singles title in Shenzhen earlier this year and the U.S. Open doubles crown with Elise Mertens, said she was reaping the benefits of playing more freely.
“I learned a lot of things this year. One of the important ones is that, the freer I play, the more fearless I am on the court,” the 21-year-old said.
“I’m starting to play more consistently, trying to forget about anything else, being in the moment, putting my focus on each point and going for shots without being afraid.”
Former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens also progressed to the second round with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Zhang Shuai while France’s Caroline Garcia outclassed Daria Kasatkina 6-2 6-2.
Also reaching the second round were Dayana Yastremska, who beat Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6(5) 6-2 in a rematch of February’s Hua Hin final, and Elena Rybakina who outlasted local hope Zhu Lin 7-5 2-6 6-0.
Australia’s Ash Barty is the top seed in the tournament which also features Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Tony Lawrence)