Ash Barty is back, the World No 1 showing little evidence of any rust after not having played a match in 11 months as she comfortably beat Romania’s Ana Bogdan, 6-3 6-3, in the Yarra Valley Classic on Tuesday evening after 73 minutes of play.
I think it's natural. The last game is always a little bit tricky when you haven't played in 12 months. It's certainly nice to be back. I've been getting a little impatient the last few months, getting ready to play and preparing the way I love doing and getting ready, kind of, for all of the fun things that come with playing a competitive tennis match. [It was], really nice to be back out there today. Ash Barty
“I had so much fun out here today, and I think I missed you guys so much as well!” Barty said to the jubilant fans in Melbourne, during her post-match interview on court. “I’ve missed coming out here competing, but I felt great tonight.
“This is one of my favourite places to play in the entire world, and for me to be able to come back after 11 or 12 months off now — it’s been a while, but I miss this feeling, I miss coming out here and competing,”
The Australian opted to stay at home in relatively Covid-19 free Queensland during the pandemic, and did not defend her French Open title.
Despite the lengthy absence, it looked as though Barty had never been away as she fired 22 winners to Bogdan’s 11, and faced just a single break point, which came and was swatted away in the very last game of the match.
Both players held serve comfortably up to 3-3 when Barty kicked into overdrive, winning 8 of Bogdan’s last 9 service points to rack up 2 breaks and close out the opening set.
The Romanian stopped a 5-game winning streak for Barty by saving a break point and holding for 1-1, but the Aussie grabbed another love break to move ahead 4-2.
Staying steely in the final stretches, Bogdan saved 2 match points before holding for 5-3 before earning her first break point of the match in that game, but Barty served her way to 2 more match points, and wrapped it up with her 6th ace.
“I think it’s natural. The last game is always a little bit tricky when you haven’t played in 12 months,” Barty assessed. “It’s certainly nice to be back.
“I’ve been getting a little impatient the last few months getting ready to play and preparing the way I love doing and getting ready kind of for all of the fun things that come with playing a competitive tennis match.
“[It was], b really nice to be back out there today.”
Although Barty, who is hoping to break her country’s 43-year singles title drought at the Australian Open, was made to work early before pouncing on Bogdan’s tentative serve, she proved way too consistent for the Romanian.
The 24-year-old now plays World No 52 Marie Bouzkova, the 16th seed, in the 3rd round, who came from a set down to get past Alione Bolsova from Spain, 3-6 7-6(6) 6-2.
Earlier in the day, defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin’s long-awaited return to Melbourne Park was brief after her Italian opponent Camila Giorgi retired injured after one set.
“This obviously is not the way I wanted to win,” Kenin told media. “I obviously hope she’s going to feel better.
“It was a good match. I hope she’s going to feel better for the Aussie Open.
“It’s unfortunate, but I feel like I played well. It’s a win. I’m going to take it, of course.
“I felt like I felt my game really good today, even though I was making a lot of unforced errors with my forehand. It was weird, I just felt really good… just made a little bit too many unforced errors.”
it was a short stay on Margaret Court Arena with the 76th-ranked Giorgi retiring because of a thigh injury after Kenin clinched a tight first set, 7-5.
“I’m happy with the win, the way I played,” said Kenin, who defeated Garbiñe Muguruza in last year’s AO final. “I started off pretty good… just made a little bit too many unforced errors.”
The 22-year-old American reeled off 3 straight games to start the match before going off the boil as Giorgi went 4-3 ahead.
Kenin regrouped before Giorgi called for medical attention at the end of the set, and then retired.
Moscow-born Kenin emerged as a serious force in last year’s truncated circuit, also reaching the French Open final and rising to a career-high of No 4 in the world rankings.
She next plays fellow American Jessica Pegula, who beat Germany’s Mona Barthel, 6-4 7-5.
No 14 seed Nadia Podoroska and American Shelby Rogers, two surprise packages at Grand Slams in 2020, are rounding into form ahead of the first major of 2021. The two booked spots in the third round with contrasting victories.
Rogers, a quarter-finalist at the US Open, overcame Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in nearly two-and-a-half hours, 6-4 5-7 6-2, while Podoroska, the French Open semi-finalist, bested Belgian Greet Minnen in straights, 6-3 6-4.
The Argentine could be a semi-final opponent for Kenin in the bottom half of the draw, and the American was effusive in her praise of the 23-year-old when prompted by a reporter in her press conference.
“She’s a great girl,” Kenin said of Podoroska, the reigning WTA Newcomer of the Year. “I don’t really know her so well, but she has a really good game, a tough game.
“She had a great run at the French. It’s obviously great for the Fila family. We’re all part of Fila. I think it’s really good. She plays big. She’s tough.”
Garbiñe Muguruza, a former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion, was in imperious form on 1573 Arena as she romped to a 6-2 6-0 win over Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck in under an hour, and will meet No 11 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round.
It was a welcome return to Melbourne Park for the Spaniard, who stormed to last year’s Australian Open final where she ultimately fell to Kenin.
In the last match of the day, Petra Kvitova ground out a testing win over Venus Williams on MCA despite a frenzy of errors, 7-6(6) 7-5 win.
As close as the encounter was, it was the first time in 8 career meetings dating back to 2014 that a third set did not decide the winner.
“I knew it would be difficult,” Kvitova said a few minutes later in her on-court interview. “I thought it was a good quality match from both sides. … We are playing similar games. It’s always 50-50.”
Williams, 40, started off quickly, acing Kvitova on the first point of the match, and following with a quick hold.
An eventual break gave her a 3-1 lead, but she was unable to consolidate in the next game, and Kvitova drew even.
It turned into another high-quality battle full of clean, deep, powerful shot-making that was only resolved in a tiebreak.
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, leaned on her heavy forehand in the breaker, including a screaming down-the-line winner following a 101 mph serve on her 4th set point to seal the opening frame.
The second was hardly seamless. Kvitova rode some early momentum, taking a 3-1 lead in part because of Williams’ shaky serves, but leading 4-2, a string of unforced errors again plagued the 30-year-old World No 9, including a backhand miscue that sailed well wide, giving her opponent the break back.
After 4 consecutive holds, Williams, serving at 5-6, sent a badly timed forehand into the middle of net, setting up match point for Kvitova.
The Czech was the aggressor throughout the match, striking nearly twice as many winners, 41 to 22, but also committing far more unforced errors, 39 to 19.
Kvitova next takes on 14th-seed Nadia Podoroska, who took out Greet Minnen earlier in the day, in the round of 16.