Adelaide | Zheng upsets Kontaveit as Vondrousova, Azarenka and Ostapenko advance

China’s Zheng Qinwen saved a match point on Tuesday, and then went on to upset Anett Kontaveit, the No 6 seed, in a thrilling opening round encounter at the WTA 500 Adelaide International 1 tournament, while Marketa Vondrousova took out 8th-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova, Victoria Azarenka scraped past Anhelina Kalinina in two tight tiebreaks, and Jelena Ostapenko dispatched Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.

When you talk about first matches that are never easy, this one was definitely at the top of the list. I played an opponent who played really, really well today. She already had two matches under her belt so she had a bit of momentum, especially at the beginning of the match. Victoria Azarenka

Zheng is the 2022 WTA Newcomer of the Year, who made an impact by reaching the Last 16 at Roland Garros, and is making her debut in Adelaide.

She has done so in dramatic fashion, winning the 2-hour, 28-minute thriller, 6-1 4-6 7-6(7), after having built a 6-1, 4-2 lead in just over 60 minutes but finding herself unable to get over the line as Kontaveit ripped through 4 straight games to send the match into a final set.

Neither lost serve in the final set, and Zheng saved the only break point either one faced, in the 4th game, while both had chances to win the match in its latter stages.

Kontaveit led 3-1 in the tiebreak and, after she saved a match point down 6-5, earned her own at 7-6.

The net came to Zheng’s rescue when a thundering first-ball forehand clipped the tape, and Kontaveit’s desperate effort to stay in the point with a forehand squash-shot on the stretch floated long.

Next, a big serve went unreturned and gave Zheng her 2nd match point, which she converted as the Estonian’s final backhand found the net.


Marketa Vondrousova took out 8th-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in her opening match on Tuesday

© Mark Brake/Getty Images

Former Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova, from the Czech Republic, is on the come-back trail from wrist surgery and has started 2023 with her 22nd career Top 20 win, coming from a set down to defeat Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, seeded 8th here, in her opening round, 4-6 6-3 6-2.

The 23-year old Czech entered the event under a special ranking as she gradually climbs back up the list, where she currently sits at No 92, trying to recover her career best showing of No 14.

It took 2 hours and 17 minutes to accomplish the upset, and Vondrousova will now meet Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, ranked 32, in the Round of 16.

The Czech managed to break her rival’s serve 5 times, while she maintained 78% of her first deliveries and made 5 double-faults as she won 61% of the points on serve.

As for Alexandrova, she broke 3 times, but made only 53% of her first serves and coughed up 17 double-faults, winning just 54% of the points on serve.


Victoria Azarenka got past Anhelina Kalinina in two tight tiebreak sets to open her Adelaide account on Tuesday

© Brenton Edwards/AFP via Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka had to dig deep to get past Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina, overcoming a shaky start to scrape through, 7-6(9) 7-6(5), in a gruelling contest that lasted 2 hours 38 minutes.

The two-times Australian Open champion found herself trailing 1-5 but summoned up her fighting spirit to save 5 set points before edging a tense tiebreak.

The Belarusian secured an early break in the second, but surrendered the advantage before winning another tiebreak against the Ukrainian to wrap up the win on her 5th match point and set up a meeting with Zheng Qinwen.

“When you talk about first matches that are never easy, this one was definitely at the top of the list,” Azarenka said. “I played an opponent who played really, really well today.

“She already had two matches under her belt so she had a bit of momentum, especially at the beginning of the match.

“I couldn’t find my footing, and to transfer everything I’d been working on in the off-season in the match, it’s step by step and I hope to do a little bit better tomorrow.”


Claire Liu beat Priscilla Hon in 3 sets in the 1st-round of Adelaide

© Sarah Reed/Getty Images

Meanwhile, American Claire Liu needed 3 sets to see her way past Aussie wild-card Priscilla Hon, 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Afterwards, Hon paid tribute to her late coach and ‘second dad’, Anthony Richardson, after he lost his year-long cancer battle, playing her 1st-round match on Tuesday barely 24 hours after finding out about his death and knowing the result was crucial to her Australian Open wild-card hopes.

“He was my coach from [age] 10 to 16, and he was a second dad to me and I basically saw him more than my own family, so it’s been really hard,” the 24-year-old Queenslander told The Age. “We knew it was bad, and I think it’s four weeks now since we found out that it [melanoma] had got to his brain, so we knew it was coming but when it happens, it never feels real.

“He came into the tennis two weeks ago and seeing him there – he was outside the court and hadn’t even said hi to us, but I started bawling.

“He had to go into hospital but then came out and got to have Christmas Eve with his family. They celebrated the night before because they weren’t sure he could make it,” she added. “That was kind of the last day he was at home before he went back into hospital.”

Hon made a bright start against Liu, who came through qualifying, but the American prevailed and the Aussie is now resigned to not receiving the last Australian Open wild-card, but will focus on trying to qualify instead.

“It’s something you try not to think about, but it’s always there – and you see the Australian wild-card selectors sitting there, judging you,” Hon said. “I tried not to look over in their direction and just block that out.

“It would have been a good opportunity for me to win that, to get it, but it is what it is. I can’t change it now.”


Priscilla Hon competed just 24 hours after learning her coach and 'second father', Anthony Richardson, had died in hospital

© Sarah Reed/Getty Images

In the last match of Day 3, 7th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, eased her way into the 2nd-round with a convincing 6-1 6-3 win over Czech Karolina Pliskova, taking 66 minutes to advance to an encounter with Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu next.

Ostapenko broke serve 5 times from her 8 opportunities and dominated with her return of Pliskova’s 2nd serve, winning 71% of them, while of the 99 points played, the Latvian took 60% of them.


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