(Reuters) - World No.1 Ash Barty faced down a match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova at the Miami Open on Thursday before clawing her way back for a 6-3 4-6 7-5 victory in the Australian's first match outside her home country in more than a year.
After a solid first set Barty, who had said she was suffering jet lag after a marathon journey to Florida, got into trouble as the unforced errors began to pile up.
She fell behind 5-2 in the third and was staring at a shock early exit but jumped on a soft serve from Kucova on match point to extend the contest and was able to lean on her powerful serve in the final game to advance on a hot day at Hard Rock Stadium.
"My first bubble win," Barty said of the tournament, where a limited number of fans are allowed on the grounds.
"It is nice to be back on tour. It is nice to come back to a place here to Miami where we have had such good memories," said Barty, who won the event in 2019.
"It's a beautiful place to play tennis."
Barty, who was knocked out in the Australian Open quarter-finals last month by Czech Karolina Muchova, is among the players who elected to stay close to home last year as the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the tennis calendar.
She said she enjoyed the challenge presented by the Slovak in their first career meeting.
"Matches like that are extremely fulfilling," she said.
"Knowing that you have done the work over an extended period to get over the edge and get the result that you're after."
After sealing the win, Barty looked at her team and pointed to her temple.
"We never give up," Barty said when asked about the gesture.
"No matter what the result, no matter what we're feeling, no matter the conditions, we just never give up."
Next up for Barty is a meeting with fellow Grand Slam champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia on Saturday.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford)