Rebecca Marino pumps her fist.

Photo : Tennis Canada

Third time was the charm for Rebecca Marino against Zhu Lin in 2023 as the Canadian defeated her Chinese opponent in straight sets to advance on day one of the Madrid Open.

It was a third meeting already this year between the pair, with the first two going the way of Zhu. But in their first clash on clay, it was the Canadian racing out to an early lead and refusing to let her opponent claw the match away as Marino hung on for a 7-6(1), 6-4 win. The victory comes in Marino’s first-ever match at a WTA 1000 event on clay.

The Canadian’s powerhouse serve was clicking on Tuesday as Marino fired 11 aces and won 73 per cent of her first serve points. She saved five of seven break points while converting three of her eight opportunities.

Marino wasted no time in trying to set a different tone from their previous two matches this year, breaking serve at the first opportunity as she raced out to a 3-0 lead. She then had a pair of break points to take a stranglehold on the set but was unable to convert.

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That proved costly as Zhu broke back in the following game and eventually leveled the set at 3-all.

The back-and-forth continued as Zhu broke to set herself up to serve out the set at 6-5, only to be broken to love as Marino forced a tiebreak that she would dominate. The Canadian scored a minibreak for 2-0 and never looked back, dropping just one more point as she salvaged an opening set she had nearly let slip away.

It was Marino’s turn to survive an early storm at the start of the second set as she faced five break points in her first two service games but was able to survive to stay on serve at 2-2.

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This time, it was Zhu who paid the price for failing to convert her opportunities as the Canadian won her first break point of the set to move ahead 4-3. Marino did not let this lead slip away, serving out the match on her second match point.

Awaiting Marino in the second round is 24th seed Elise Mertens.

Bouchard Back in Spanish Capital

Earlier in the day, the Canadian main-draw crew expanded by one as Eugenie Bouchard qualified with a straight-set win over Elizabeth Mandlik.

Bouchard dropped just seven total games in two qualifying matches, leading 6-1, 4-1 when Sara Sorribes Tormo retired in round one followed by a 6-3, 6-2 win over the American to claim her spot in the 96-woman main draw, joining Marino, Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez.

Just by entering qualifying, it was the Canadian’s first time playing in Madrid, let alone the main draw, since 2017 when she beat Alize Cornet, two-time Roland-Garros champion Maria Sharapova, and world No. 1 Angelique Kerber on her way to the quarter-finals. That run was the last time Bouchard got past the second round at a WTA 1000 event.

Her first-round match will be just her third match and second main-draw appearance at a WTA 1000 since 2019. Her opponent is yet to be determined.