With the big guns yet to get into action at the Sydney Tennis Classic, the first round was completed with the efficient demolition of Britain’s Emma Raducanu by last week’s Adelaide finalist, Elena Rybakina, 6-0 6-1.
My serve is a weapon, so I'm always working on it and trying to find some variety. For sure, it's my game to play aggressive and my serve is helping a lot. Elena Rybakina
It was a rude awakening for the 19-year old from Bromley, having to face the in-form, match-sharp Kazakh who replaced Iga Swiatek, the 6th seed, when the Pole pulled out of the tournament with a rib injury.
Both opponents were tough asks of a such an inexperienced player, who has been recovering from COVID and faced a Top 20 for only the third time in her fledgling career.
Sydney is also only Raducanu’s 8th WTA level tournament, ever, and she took the beating with a smile, recognising that any point she could garner were valuable against an opponent ranked 13 in the world, just 6 places higher than her current No 18.
The British No 1 was also playing her first competitive contest under new head coach Torben Beltz, who she appointed in November, and it was all over in 55 minutes.
Raducanu served 3 double-faults in her opening service game, blowing a 40-15 lead to get broken, and was overpowered by the hard-hitting 22-year-old throughout the set.
A 4th double-fault gave Rybakina set point, and she took the opener in less than half an hour without dropping a game, while Raducanu struggled on her serve.
The US Open champion won just 50 percent of her first deliveries and only 13 percent off her second in the opener, compared to her opponent’s 82 percent and 57 percent.
After losing the opening 9 games in succession, the 19-year-old finally got on the board in the 10th game and punched the air in delight with a grin, much to the delight of the Aussie crowd.
Rybakina quickly hit back, though, and despite Raducanu settling herself, the gulf was a step too far for the Brit to bridge on this day.
Raducanu has some things to work on ahead of her Australian Open debut next week, which is her first Grand Slam since winning the US Open as a qualifier and, as the most recent Major champion, she is now a player to beat.
It is worth remembering, however, that Melbourne will be Raducanu’s third Grand Slam tournament, and only her first as a direct-entry where she will be the 17th seed, compared to her qualifier and wild-card status at the US Open and Wimbledon last year.
Raducanu’s one-sided Sydney loss only serves as a reminder of her inexperience on the WTA Tour, having played just 7 tournaments last year, with Sydney being her 8th on her first full year on tour.
The defeat was also her first on Beltz’s watch and in her corner and, ahead of the match, she asked chair umpire John Blom where her team would be sitting.
The German previously helped Angelique Kerber win 2 of her 3 Grand Slam titles and reach the World No 1 spot in the rankings.
Meanwhile, 6-foot Rybakina marches on to a contest with France’s Caroline Garcia, who beat American Jessica Pegula with a tight 6-4 7-6(3) win.
“My serve is a weapon, so I’m always working on it and trying to find some variety,” said Rybakina in the on-court interview. “For sure, it’s my game to play aggressive and my serve is helping a lot.”
Earlier in the day, Tokyo gold medalist Belinda Bencic kicked off her 2022 season with a win over Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia, while Belgian Elise Mertens dispatched French lucky loser Fiona Ferro, both in straight sets.
Unseeded at the WTA 500 event this week, Bencic needed just 69 minutes to defeat the left-handed Hadda Maia, 6-3 6-2, never facing a break point and breaking 3 times out of her 4 chances in the match.
“It’s very tricky to play the first match of the year,” Bencic said afterwards. “I actually felt well today.
“I think it’s just about taking it easy, not putting so much pressure at the start of the year, to just take time to get into it.”
While Bencic posted a 9-2 record against left-handers in 2021, Tuesday’s was her 5th win in a row against a lefty..
“I don’t really like [playing] lefties and last year, I felt like … I played lefties all the time,” she said. “It’s really difficult to return, plus Bia’s very tall and the spin is just different. It’s completely upside-down!”
For a spot in the quarter-finals, the Swiss will next face French lucky loser Oceane Dodin, who was a 6-4 6-1 winner over Mexican qualifier Giuliana Olmos.
Following the withdrawal of World No 1 Ash Barty from the field and first-round defeats by wild-cards Priscilla Hon and Astra Sharma, the locals in Sydney had something to cheer about thanks to Ajla Tomljanovic.
The second highest-ranking Aussie behind Barty moved through to the second round with a 6-2 6-3 win over Slovak qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, moving through to a showdown against No 5 seed Paula Badosa from Spain.
After racing out to a one-set lead, buoyed by a 3-0 start, Tomljanovic trailed 3-0, and 0-40 on serve in the second but the World No 45 won 6 straight games to wrap up the match.
“Those two sets, it was 2 and 3, but it felt like almost a three-setter,” Tomljanovic said. “There were so many long rallies.
“I lost my focus a little bit to get down 3-0, but she played really well the whole match. I’m really happy to be through.
“She won two matches already and she’s used to the conditions a bit more, maybe … [at 0-3, 0-40], I was thinking that this might, most likely, go into a third but I still wanted to keep playing good tennis so I had the momentum going into the third.
“I guess that that mentality helps you to keep believing that you can turn things around as well.”
Garbiñe Muguraza is placed top seed in the competition after Barty pulled out of the tournament to recover following her wins at the Adelaide International last week, and received a first round-bye so the Spaniard will open against 27-year-old Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, who defeated Japanese qualifier Ena Shibahara 6-4 6-4 on Tuesday.
Barbora Krejcikova, now effectively the 2nd seed, also had a bye in the top half of the draw and will take on Jaqueline Cristian from Romania on Wednesday.