Holder Vinci advances in St Petersburg

Defending champion Roberta Vinci battled into the second round of the WTA St Petersburg tournament on Tuesday following a tough three-set win over Timea Babos.

It took sixth-seeded Italian Vinci, 33, just over two hours to get past the 28th-ranked Hungarian 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in a replay of last year's quarter-final.

"It's always tough to play against Timea," Vinci said. "She's a great player with a very good serve.

"Today it was really difficult to change the course of the match. And I'm really happy to win because it's always hard to play in the first round.

"But I love this tournament as I have great memories from the last year."

Vinci looked in command, winning the opening set in 37 minutes, but Babos struck back in the second and appeared to take command when she broke at the start of the third.

But Vinci, ranked 21, moved up a gear and broke back twice to claim her fifth win over Babos in six meetings.

The Italian next plays German qualifier Andrea Petkovic, who saw off Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1, 7-5, for a place in the quarter-finals.

Frenchwomen Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet dispatched Belgian qualifiers Elise Mertens 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 and Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-2 respectively.

Mladenovic is slated to meet US star Venus Williams for the first time in the second round.

Meanwhile, home favourite Daria Kasatkina, the eighth seed, eased past Switzerland's Belinda Bencic 6-2, 7-5.

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