World No. 1 Iga Swiatek showed no signs of rust in her first match of the 2023 season, defeating Yulia Putintseva 6-1 6-3 at the United Cup and giving Poland a 1-0 lead but Timofey Skatov later registered a win to level the tie for Kazakhstan, here on Saturday.
With Polish great Agnieszka Radwanska looking on from the captain's box, Swiatek needed just three games before finding the rhythm and range that made her the runaway 2022 WTA Tour Player of the Year.
Putintseva earned an early breakpoint chance in Swiatek's first game, but the Pole coolly erased it with pinpoint accuracy.
"I'm pretty happy with my performance. First matches of the season are always rusty. I was happy that in the important moments I was really composed," Swiatek said.
Under pressure again while serving at 1-1, 0/30, Swiatek found another gear to reel off 12 consecutive points to build a 4-1 lead. Having made six unforced errors in the first three games, Swiatek would make just one for the rest of the set, pocketing the set after 27 minutes.
Swiatek underlined her reputation as the tour's preeminent front-runner in the second set. After keeping Putintseva at bay in the early games, Swiatek broke to 3-2 and held her lead to win after 64 minutes.
The 21-year old Swiatek finished the match with 22 groundstroke winners -- 17 on the forehand alone -- to just five for Putintseva. The victory extended Swiatek's head-to-head record against Putintseva to 2-0.
On the other hand, Timofey Skatov leveled the tie with a gruelling 7-6(7), 6-2 victory against Daniel Michalski. The first set proved critical, with long, grinding rallies that led to the match lasting two hours and 11 minutes.
"It was a really tough match, but actually my captain's not happy because he said I played too long," Skatov said in reference to Kazakhstan playing captain Alexander Bublik, who laughed in the team zone.
"Today's new year and we have to celebrate a bit! But okay, I tried to play as fast as possible," he added.
World No. 142 Skatov saved all five break points he faced against Michalski to earn his first win at the United Cup. The 21-year-old had lost his first No. 2 men's singles match of the week in three sets against Switzerland's Marc-Andrea Huesler.
The tie will continue Sunday evening when Bublik faces Polish star Hubert Hurkacz in the No. 1 men's singles match. Hurkacz leads the pair's ATP Head to Head series 3-1. Poland's Magda Linette will then play crowd favourite Zhibek Kulambayeva in the No. 2 women's singles match before a possible decider in the mixed doubles inside Pat Rafter Arena.