It was supposed to be an easy match.
A glorified warm-up match for Angelique Kerber, the Volo Car Open defending champion, and a way to ease into a tournament that has meant so much to her.
But Lara Arruabarrena, the 80th-ranked player on the WTA tour, had other ideas.
Kerber, who captured her first major championship win at the Australian Open in January, held on to beat Arruabarrena, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), in her opening match of the Volvo Car Open on Tuesday night.
Arruabarrena did all she could to ruin Kerber’s night, using strong ground strokes to move her opponent around the court and frustrate the 2015 champion in a match that lasted 2 hours and 38 minutes.
“I never saw her play like this,” Kerber said. “And I heard already that she played very well, and I was feeling that. It’s always freaky to play the first match on clay, and I was trying to stay in the match, trying to play it point by point, especially in the tiebreaker because I knew that’s the last few points in the match.
“I’m just happy about the match. It was for sure a tough first round on clay here in Charleston.”
It looked like it was going to be an easy night for Kerber as she cruised to a 6-2 first set victory in just 33 minutes.
However, with her victory over Charleston’s Shelby Rogers on Monday, Arruabarrena had already played in six matches this season on clay when she stepped on the Volvo Car Stadium court Tuesday night.
This was Kerber’s first match on clay this season.
Arruabarrena came storming back in the second set as long rallies dominated the action. The second set took nearly an hour and Arruabarrena evened the match at a set apiece, finishing with 20 winners.
With Kerber up 2-1 in the third set, the two battled more than 15 minutes in Game 4. The game featured 26 points and 12 deuces, but Kerber finally finished the game with a forehand winner to grab a 3-1 lead.
The two exchanged games down the stretch as Kerber finally found some rhythm in the tiebreaker winning, 7-3.
“It’s a really special feeling being back,” Kerber sai. “It was really important win for me last year, which changed everything for me. The crowd was just amazing. They are supporting you, and to play in front of these guys here is just feeling like home and it’s really great to be back.”
Also Tuesday, American wild-card entrant Louisa Chirico, just 19 years old, scored a 3-6,l 6-1, 6-1 victory over qualifer Naomi Osaka of Japan. It was the first match win on the WTA Tour this year for Chirico, who is ranked No. 126 and is from Westchester, N.Y.
Fellow American Madison Brengle was not as fortunate, losing 7-5, 6-2 to qualifer Kristina Kucova.