World No 1 Ashleigh Barty survived a scare on Tuesday at the Adelaide International, but came through in the end to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 4-6 6-3 7-5; while Simona Halep, the No 2 seed, stopped local favourite Ajla Tomljanovic, 6-4 7-5.
It was a little bit tough that it was the first match of the year, and even if you practice weeks in a row, it's not like when you play a match. So I need a little bit of time. I need some matches and then I can feel it better. But it was okay. Simona Halep
The top seed, who had a bye in the first round at Memorial Drive and was forced to battle hard to get past her experienced Russian opponent, has booked her place in the quarter-finals against compatriot Arina Rodionova.
“It’s something I try and pride myself on is that, no matter what the score is, I try and hang around for the whole match every time,” Barty told the press afterwards.
“Last year we did it really well, had a really good record of when I’d lost the first set, of coming back and trying to win those matches. Today was no different.
“I felt like I was doing the right things. I just needed to hang in there and wait for an opportunity to come and then try and grab it.
“Yeah, pretty happy to be able to turn that one around.”
After an aggressive, clean-hitting Pavlyuchenkova stormed to take the opening set, Barty stayed calm to edge back into the match.
She looked fully in control for much of the deciding set, going up a double break and building a 5-2 lead, but this time it was Pavlyuchenkova storming back, levelling at 5-5.
Barty struck a game later, breaking once more and sealing her first singles victory of 2020.
“I was able to play my style and control a bit more in the third set,” Barty said. “But she hung around and got more aggressive.
“I was happy to come through and get the chance to play another match here.”
The 23-year-old Australian lost her opening match last week in Brisbane, and is looking for crucial court time before the Australian Open starts next Monday in Melbourne.
She went up a double break in the decider, but lost the edge as Pavlyuchenkova levelled at 5-all.
“It was a very close one – but all of ours are. She controlled the match with me trying to do the best I could.”
The Russian, who is ranked 31 and now stands 3-3 in their head-to-head, lost her own serve on a forehand wide as Barty took a 6-5 lead and closed out the win a game later after 2 hours, 10 minutes.
The Aussie, who won the French Open last year, said she was taking nothing for granted while holding the top WTA ranking.
“It’s been an incredible journey for me and my team,” she said. “It was a whirlwind year, but I’m back competing and doing what I love.”
Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens crashed out at the hands of Australian qualifier Arina Rodionova, ranked No 201, in straight sets, 6-2 6-2.
The American, whose last match was a second-round loss in Beijing on 1 October, departed in 72 minutes, dropping her serve 4 times.
Rodionova worked her way through qualifying rounds, defeating a pair of top 100 opponents to earn her spot in the draw.
“This is my third big win of the week, so I’m not counting anymore,” she said. “Hopefully I manage to continue.
“It’s always great to get such amazing wins against the top players. I feel pretty good about myself right now.”
Elsewhere, Maria Sakkari of Greece made quick work of Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia, 7-5 6-2.
The lucky loser was a late replacement for Kiki Bertens, the No 5 seed, who withdrew with an achilles issue.
Last year’s French Open finalist, Czech Marketa Vondrosova, played her first match since picking up an arm injury at last year’s Wimbledon, defeating Germany’s Tatiana Maria, 6-3 6-0.
The 6th seed, Aryna Sabalenka, a wild card into the main draw, was pushed the distance by Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh before winning through after 2 hours 5 minutes, 5-7 6-1 7-5.
She will meet Bernarda Pera, an American qualifier, who took out the wily Czech Barbora Strycova, 7-6(6) 6-3, in round two.
In the last match of the day, reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep emerged triumphant in her first singles match of the 2020 season, as the WTA World No.4 moved past Australian wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic, 6-4 7-5, to reach the quarters.
Former WTA World No 1 Halep extended her undefeated record against the World No 52 Tomljanovic to 3-0 as she eked out the tough two-set win over the homeland hope after an hour and 36 minutes of play.
The Romanian finished the match with 19 winners, including 7 aces, to 11 unforced errors, and efficiently converted 4 out of her 5 break points.
Hard-hitting Tomljanovic had 23 winners of her own and won 71 percent of points off of Halep’s second serve, but the Australian let 6 of her 8 break points go begging on the day.
“I feel like I served pretty well today, 7 aces, so it’s good for the donation,” she said, referring to the WTA’s pledge to donate to Australia’s bush fire relief effort.
“And I was moving pretty well. I was strong on my legs. I could respond very well to her very hard hit balls.
“It was a little bit tough that it was the first match of the year, and even if you practice weeks in a row, it’s not like when you play a match.
“So I need a little bit of time. I need some matches and then I can feel it better. But it was okay.”
Now into the quarter-finals, two-time Grand Slam champion Halep awaits the winner of the second-round affair between Sabalenka and Pera.
“It’s always good to have tough matches, because you need this at the beginning and to get used to the pressure and tension during the matches,” Halep reflected.
“So I’m pleased with the match from today, and I’m sure the next one is going to be tougher.”