Elena Rybakina cemented her status as one of the title favourites at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open by opening her campaign with a statement victory over former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova on Thursday.
The Kazakh third seed, one of four players to receive byes into the second round, showed no signs of any lingering effects from a gruelling Australian Open campaign by easing past her Czech opponent 6-4, 6-2.
The Wimbledon champion earned the only break of the first set in the very first game and that proved all the advantage she needed to take a one-set lead. The second set was more one-sided, Rybakina winning five straight games for a 5-1 lead.
From there, the outcome felt inevitable as Rybakina, who arrived in Abu Dhabi after finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, served out the victory to love.
In the previous match, Daria Kasatkina recovered from a slow start to avoid a shock defeat as the tournament top seed beat Jil Teichmann 1-6, 6-0, 6-2 to book her place in the quarter-finals.
Kasatkina has not played since a first-round exit at the Australian Open three weeks ago, and the lack of recent time on court was telling as Teichmann dominated from the start to race into a one-set lead.
The Swiss world No 28 was the far more aggressive player, bullying Kasatkina from the back of the court, freely striking winners, and attacking the Russian's second serve with ease.
On a chilly and windy evening inside the Stadium Court at Zayed Sports City, Kasatkina finally warmed up at the start of the second set and the world No 8 started to construct some trademark points; using spin and angles to get Teichmann moving.
As Kasatkina took a foothold in the match, the errors started to accumulate for Teichmann and after three successive breaks of serve, the Russian was level a mere 24 minutes later.
The early exchanges of the decider suggested a more competitive set could be in store after two breaks of serve each saw Kasatkina hold a 3-2 lead. But from there, the top seed ran away with the match, winning the next three games to advance.
"Honestly it was tough, I haven’t played much in a while, my last match was almost one month ago," Kasatkina, 25, said. "The conditions are tricky, with the lights and the wind, and you feel a bit lost, like you have no idea how to hit the ball. But then with some rallies and getting the heartbeat up, it got better.
"It helped I was up in the beginning of the second set. You can either find a way to deal with these things or you can give up and get beat 6-1, 6-2. I chose the first option."
Crisis averted but next up is an in-form and match fit Qinwen Zheng, who reached the last eight by beating fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko on Wednesday, and Kasatkina is expecting a tough challenge.
"[Zheng] is a very talented and powerful girl," the Russian said. "She doesn’t care who she plays, you can see that since her first appearance on tour. I have to show experience and I think I can make a few problems for her, we’ll see. It’s going to be a tough one.”
In the first match of the day, Liudmila Samsonova came through a tough clash against former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova to book her place quarter-finals.
The Russian eighth seed held off a spirited fightback from the former world No 2 to register a 7-5, 6-3 win. Samsonova, 24, will face compatriot and fourth seed Veronika Kudermetova for a place in the semi-finals.