BEIJING (AFP) - Caroline Garcia survived a major scare before defeating local wildcard Wang Yafan 7-6 (12-10), 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 to open the defence of her China Open tennis title in unconvincing fashion on Sunday (Sept 30).
But world No. 1 Simona Halep is out at the first hurdle, retiring with back trouble after losing the first set 6-1 to Ons Jabeur.
The Romanian's tournament lasted just 31 miserable minutes and she never looked comfortable against the Tunisian qualifier. The 27-year-old, who was the first to qualify for the Oct 21-28 WTA Finals in Singapore, suffered the back injury a week ago in Wuhan.
Her early departure is another blow to organisers in the Chinese capital, with Serena Williams missing from the women's draw and several big names also absent from the men's event.
Garcia defied a rattling roof and a surprisingly stiff challenge from the home player to labour into round two on Beijing's hard courts after more than three hours of nervy action.
She took the first set on a tiebreak after 77 minutes during which the retractable roof - which was closed - banged noisily on occasion in the wind.
The fourth-ranked French player and world No. 78 Wang, who are both 24, went to battle again in the second set and Garcia came back to force another tiebreak.
Garcia, who won back-to-back titles last year in China in a breakthrough 2017, rescued one set point in the tiebreak but Wang made the second count to force a deciding set.
Garcia was more ruthless this time, racing into a 3-0 lead as Wang's fighting spirit was finally nullified.