There are few easy matches in women’s tennis these days and the premier WTA International event in Adelaide, the last warm-up tournament before the Australian Open, is no exception, with most of the top guns in action, led by World No 1 Ash Barty.
Having a number next to your name doesn't guarantee anything - it doesn't guarantee wins. You still have to go out there and do the work ... and do your best every single match. Ash Barty
Barty is aiming to become the first Australian to win her home Grand Slam since Christine O’Neil in 1976, and continues her preparations this week in Adelaide.
While she holds onto the top spot in the rankings released on Monday, Karolina Pliskova has narrowed the gap heading into the Australia Open after the Czech won Brisbane or the third time in four years on Sunday.
Barty, who was stunned in the Brisbane singles last week before getting some valuable court time by making it to the doubles final, is relaxed ahead of the tournament with the Australian Open just one week away.
She retains a comfortable cushion of 1,607 points over Pliskova, and isn’t worried about the rankings.
“Regardless of what number is next to my name – and whether it’s one, two, 10, 20, 50 – it’s not going to make me any more or less hungry to try and be the best that I can be,” she told the media on Monday.
“That is what we’re striving for every single day, to try and improve every single day and try and bring the best out of myself.
“And I have an exceptional team of people around me that help me do that and that is all we worry about – there certainly won’t be any stresses about whatever number is there.
“Having a number next to your name doesn’t guarantee anything – it doesn’t guarantee wins.
“You still have to go out there and do the work … and do your best every single match.”
With career prize money of almost $24 million in the bank, $23 million of which came last year alone, Barty surprisingly doesn’t consider herself fully fulfilled as a player yet.
“I want to be the complete tennis player,” she told reporters.
“… The challenge is now to continue to try and improve as a tennis player and that’s all I can really ask of myself.
“It’s going to be small improvements, but improvements nonetheless every single day.”
Barty, the tournament top seed, received a bye and plays Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Tuesday.
It could prove to be another testing day up for her as the Russian has won 3 of their 5 previous meetings, and the Aussie is bound to be wary.
Pavlyuchenkova, who scaled the roof of the iconic Adelaide Oval over the weekend and admitted she was ‘super-scared of heights’, fearlessly took out Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit in her opener on Monday, 6-2 6-4.
While Pliskova and Naomi Osaka are both absent in Adelaide, Simona Halep, the World No 4, opens her season here on Tuesday against hometown favourite Ajla Tomljanovic, who saved 2 set points to overcome Kazakh qualifier Yulia Putintseva, 7-6(4) 6-2, to book an intriguing 2nd round clash with the Wimbledon champion.
The Aussie pushed former World No1 Karolina Pliskova to the brink of defeat at the Brisbane International last week, and had to weather an early storm from the fiery Putintseva, who didn’t drop a set through her two matches in qualifying.
“Yeah, not the greatest start,” Tomljanovic said after the match. “I don’t even think it was nerves. I wasn’t too focused at the start.
“With her, you have to be really sharp, disciplined, but still aggressive. It took me a little bit to find the balance.
“But I think once I got going, it was a battle. I mean, she’s always tough. She never gives up. She runs down every ball, really makes you win it. This is a quality win for me.”
World No 7 Belinda Bencic won her first match of the season on Monday when the Swiss wildcard beat her good friend Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-4 6-4.
Bencic, 22, who had lost her last 2 matches against the qualifier, overcame the hot conditions at Memorial Drive, surviving a 1st set against Kasatkina that featured 5 breaks of serve and secured her 2nd-round place with a break in the final game of the second.
“It was very difficult, but I like the heat and I’m happy to be here for the first time,” said Bencic.
Bencic soared up the rankings last year and won 2 titles, in Moscow and Dubai, on her way to a career-best 49 main draw match wins.
“Her game is really tough, it doesn’t match up with mine. I had to work hard,” she added of Kasatkina.
Among the late matches, Angelique Kerber took an hour 23 minutes to move past China’s Wang Qiang, 6-1 6-3, scoring her first win of 2020 in the process.
Australia is a happy hunting ground for the German, who claimed Australian Open success in 2016 and then the Sydney title in 2018, but she was defeated in the opening round of Brisbane last week by Samantha Stosur.
Her power proved too much for the World No 28 in the first meeting between the two.
“The first set, I played well and I felt good. The second set was really tight,” she said. “It’s my first win this year, so I’m really happy about that. Hopefully I can play like today in the next round.”
Kerber proved a worthy replacement for the injured Petra Kvitova in the pool of seeded players as she dominated the match from the outset, and reversed the trend of her recent poor form, which had seen her win just 4 matches in her previous 9 tournaments.
Kerber swept through the opening set, winning 32 points to her opponent’s 16, and yet posted only 6 winners, testimony to the number of errors she was forcing from her opponent, who only made 7 unforced mistakes herself.
She set up for a 2nd-round encounter with Dayana Yastremska, ranked 24 from the Ukraine, another player she has never previously faced.
“We know each other very well. It will be another tough opponent, but I’m ready and I hope it’s going to be a good match,” she concluded.
Yastremska dispatched lucky loser Timea Babos from Hungary, 7-5 6-3; while Danielle Collins and Donna Vekic were among other women to clear the first hurdle in Adelaide, with the American seeing off Bulgarian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-3 6-3, and the Croat winning over Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia, 4-6 6-1 6-3.