The match could not have started any better for the Brit against Peng, coming back from injury. She swiftly built up a 4-1 lead and although the Chinese player nibbled back one of the breaks, Watson kept her nerve to round out the first set comfortably.
Yet it as a very different player to face her in the second set. Peng, at her peak a former US Open semi-finalist (2014) showed how her depth could rattle one of the grittiest defenders on the tour, especially as Watson’s own serving became a lot more vulnerable in the second set.
Twice Watson broke for the lead, and twice Peng pegged her back, eventually forcing a tie-break, levelling the match and causing thoughts of that brutal 12-10 loss in the first round of Wimbledon to come flooding back.
It was a familiar pattern. Watson would break for a lead, before handing it straight back again, but it would the Brit who would finally prevail with another break to serve for the match. She had to work for it, squandering two match points, saving two break points, before finally clinching it on the third try.
On a day where her fellow Opening Ceremony chums Colin Fleming and Dom Inglot were soundly beaten in their opener, Watson had to defend her decision to participate this time in the Opening Ceremony, having skipped it in her home games at London 2012.
She was in action later in the day with British No. 1 Johanna Konta, who starts her singles campaign on Sunday, although they breezed past the Serbian pairing of Jelena Jankovic and Aleksandra Krunic for the loss of just three games.
Watson v Elina Svitolina  – H2H: Watson leads 1-0
With her win over Peng, Watson snapped a four match losing streak going back to Birmingham, and will have gained her legs on this slow, gritty, high-bouncing court. She was not alone in toiling in the hot conditions on the first full day of competition.
Svitolina punctured Andrea Petkovic’s hopes at her first Olympics, coming from a set down to beat the German in another match that went over the two hour mark.
The Ukrainian has been a little more consistent over the summer than Watson, who has struggled to be consistent and surely will be the favourite, if not far more rested than Watson.
Both play aggressively, and perhaps Watson can make that transition between scrambling defence and attack a little better when she has the belief and the form, and both have tried to pep up their serving which will be key.
At times, when it counted, Watson was able to dredge up serves to rescue her but her serving went way off the boil in the second set, giving Peng a way back in. The Chinese player was tour match shy. Svitolina is not.
Watson can ill-afford to drift if she wants the possibility of a match up with World No. 1 and defending champion Serena Williams, should she survive the seed scattering of the first day (as fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska and sister Venus Williams were sent packing).
This is a tough ask for the Brit, but she will make Svitolina toil once more.
Prediction: Svitolina in three sets.
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