Ekaterina Makarova and Venus Williams threw up a feast of tennis that ranged from the considered to the nervy to the outright visceral, but it was the American who became the first high profile name to leave Australian Open 2014.
Venus can be proud of her efforts in a battle that endured one minute short of two and a half hours but she fell ultimately to the tenacity and doggedness of the 22nd seed who just did not want to go home - eventually claiming the match 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“I was fighting, fighting and finally turned around the match,” Makarova said. It was an apt summary from a match that at one point looked to be anything but lengthy.
Williams came out on fire, her continued pulling power ensuring that the direct sun right across across the western length of Margaret Court Arena failed to deter anyone in the crowd from breaks of any sort - bright and baking the order of the late morning, the play before them ever more compelling.
It was a draw neither player can have relished. Despite her current ranking at number 37, Williams is still a dominant presence; while Makarova was a quarterfinalist here for the past two years and is a hardy, athletic foe.
Williams’ early forehand was rarely off colour and her first set serves, often in the 180km category, made it a difficult start for the Russian.
Early breaks apiece were left behind from two games all, Makarova dazzled not so much by the beating sun as by the brilliance of her opponent. The set ended 6-2 to Williams.
Conceding the difficulty of matching power for power, variety gradually came to the fore from Makarova, and her defence of two break points at 2-3 in the second set was pivotal.
It can’t have made it easy that nearly every Makarova point had to be won three or four times before it was on the scoreboard, such intensity of opposition calling for unusual mental fortitude with Makarova’s best and thoughtful thrusts rebounding time and again.
Makarova won the 57 minute second set, which came in compete contrast to the procession of the first half hour - both players desperate not to leave the tournament before lunchtime, and Williams knowing her best chance lay with the quick dismissal.
Mixing it up takes some nerve when you’re on the end of an incessant baseline barrage but a lack of options or nerves of steel proved decisive for the gradually looser Makarova as she regularly rocked Williams from side to side, her growing confidence the key.
Williams strode to the first three games of the final set, then Makarova took the following three. An eight minute, seventh game gave the Russian the break as instinct overtook game plan for both women, the determination and punch was extraordinary, Makarova revealing an aggression missing from her earlier play and heading to 5/3 on an ace.
But Williams wasn’t done, she won the next game to love before Makarova drew deep to wrap up the match 6-4.
First rate fare for the first match of the day. Makarova will sleep very well tonight.