Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki's latest trip to the Family Circle Cup began a lot better than the last one ended.
Wozniacki opened with a straight-set victory over American Irina Falconi on Wednesday. It was only a year ago that Wozniacki had to retire from a semifinal match against Vera Zvonareva because of an ankle injury when sliding on the green clay. This time, though, Wozniacki moved like the No. 1 player in dispatching Falconi, 6-1, 6-1.
"I'm feeling good on clay, so it's exciting. It's always exciting to start here," Wozniacki said.
If Wozniacki had any bad memories of the Family Circle Tennis Center, she got rid of them quickly at the stadium court. She took a 5-0 lead, then after a brief rally by Falconi, took the final six games to close out the match.
"She was playing good, but I felt like I could put that extra step into the ball," Wozniacki said. "I made the winners at the right chances."
Other early winners were No. 7-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia and No. 10 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.
Wozniacki is among three top-10 players taking part in the tournament. Fifth-ranked Samantha Stosur and No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, both won their opening matches.
The tournament's fourth seed, Marion Bartoli, fell to 2009 Family Circle champ Sabine Lisicki, 6-2, 6-3 in the night match.
Wozniacki took advantage of Falconi's early mistakes to build her big lead. Falconi, a former Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year at Georgia Tech, rallied in the middle of the match and took a 1-0 lead in the second set. But Wozniacki's precise groundstrokes and steady shots gradually retook control.
Falconi, ranked 128th, had never faced a No. 1 player. She was pleased that she hung in with Wozniacki for a while, but realized the enormous challenge she'd have competing.
"I don't know what her weaknesses are, so when you find out, let me know," Falconi said.
Wozniacki broke Falconi's serve at love in the match's final game, but could not entirely forget last year's injury.
"You think about it sometimes a little bit sometimes, especially when you go after drop shots," she said. "But on the other hand, this is a tournament that I've always enjoyed playing and center court is so cozy."
Wozniacki won tournaments this year in Dubai and Indian Wells, Calif. She feels her game is ready, no matter what happened in the past.
"As tournament progresses, I'll feel more and more confident on the clay as well," she said.
Stosur, the defending champion seeded second behind Wozniacki, topped Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, 6-1, 6-2. Jankovic, the third seed who won this tournament in 2007, overcame a windy afternoon at stadium court to take out Tamira Paszek, 6-2, 6-3.
Stosur felt the same comfort here as she did a year ago in winning to the title.
"I think it definitely, maybe, lifts your shoulders up a little bit and puts a smile on your face," hearing your name announced as defending champion.
Stosur had been in the area for more than week, preparing for her first clay-court event. She understands the hurdle she'll have to overcome in Wozniacki if she hopes to repeat as champion.
The 20-year-old Wozniacki doesn't posses an overpowering serve or a dominant backhand, but Stosur believes consistency that gives her an edge.
"I think her weapon is her mental toughness," Stosur said. "If you're going to play her and beat her, you have to beat her. She's not going to make a ton of unforced errors and give you the match."