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Brisbane | Konta, Svitolina and Kerber fall at first hurdle

Brisbane | Konta, Svitolina and Kerber fall at first hurdle

While attention remains focused on the ATP Cup, the WTA Tour sees the return of the big guns ahead of the Australian Open with tournaments currently taking place in Brisbane, Shenzen and Auckland.

Now it's not just wildlife have lost lives and lost homes, but it's also affected Australians with their lives and their homes Ashleigh Barty

World No 1 Ash Barty announced she will donate all the prize money she earns at the Brisbane International to the country’s bushfire relief fund.

Fires in Australia have killed 24 people since September, with thousands of homes destroyed and hundreds of animals perishing.
Barty, the French Open champion, has been vocal about how much the tragedy has affected her.

“There are a lot of bigger things going on in Australia right now that we need to take care of,” she said. “It’s been really terrible, it really has.

“For me, this started two or three months ago. We have to remember, this has been going on for a long time across our whole country.

“The first I saw of it was actually flying home from the Fed Cup final [in November] from Perth back to the east coast of Australia and we could see some of the smoke and some of the fires from the plane. So that really hit home with me.

“Obviously the worst of it is still out there at the moment.

“Now it’s not just wildlife have lost lives and lost homes, but it’s also affected Australians with their lives and their homes.”

Barty, who has yet to play, is the top seed in the singles and is also taking part in the doubles alongside Kiki Bertens.

Johanna Konta loses her first match of the season

British No 1 Johanna Konta was knocked out in the first round of Brisbane after losing to Barbora Strycova in three sets.

The 28 year-old, ranked World No 12 and who has been battling a prolonged knee injury, went down 6-2 3-6 6-3 to the Czech player.

The pair last met each other at the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year where Strycova also won.

It was Konta’s first match since the 2019 US Open quarter-finals when she lost to Elina Svitolina.

Strycova, ranked 31, was dominant in the opening set with 2 breaks but Konta found her swing and won the second set in which she broke twice.

In a match which lasted just over 2 hours and 13 minutes, both players struggled to set the tone with 6 breaks in the final set, but it was Strycova who managed to hold on and came out victorious, progressing into the second round.

There were 23 break chances up for grabs and it was the Czech who saved 9 out of 13 to limit the damage in her games, earning 6 breaks, 4 in the decider, to oust Konta.

It was Strycova’s third win over the Briton in as many encounters.

Asked for the reason behind her 100 per cent record over Konta, Strycova, 33, said: “She’s such a great player and tough opponent, striking the ball very hard, so I always have to play my best tennis against her.

“The wind was always changing so you had to adjust a little bit.”

How much Konta was hampered by her previous injury remains to be seen.

Speaking last month, she said: “I’ve been carrying a knee problem since the first week of the year and it was basically a case of just managing it through the season.

“Once we got to the grass it got worse and then at the US Open it felt significantly worse.”

There had already been an upset, as Danielle Collins toppled the 4th seed Elina Svitolina, 6-1 6-1, in 56 minutes.

It was their first meeting and the American played at a very high level, making a perfect return after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and embracing the best possible start of the season.

Collins lost 15 points behind her first serve, 8 of those in the first game when she saved 4 break chances to avoid an early setback.

After that, she delivered one good hold after another, stealing 62% of the return points to score 5 breaks from 10 opportunities and sail into the last 16.

Aussie veteran Samantha Stosur prevailed over Angelique Kerber, 7-6 7-6 in an hour and 54 minutes, beating the German for the first time since Madrid 2015.

There was little to separate them on court, with Stosur taking 6 points more than her opponent, which made all the difference in the tiebreaks.

The Aussie could have won the opening set more efficiently, leading 5-2 before Kerber bounced back, sharing 6 breaks in total and serving well in set number two to reach another breaker.

Three powerful holds and breaks in games 2 and 4 pushed Stosur 5-2 up in no time at all before Kerber pulled the break back in game 9, returning to the positive side of the scoreboard and securing another break at 5-5 to rattle off 4 straight games and serve for the set.

Stosur broke back in the last moment to set the breaker that she won 7-5 for a massive boost ahead of set number two.

There, there were no breaks and it was Stosur who took the tiebreak 7-4 after a service winner for a massive win and the place in the second round.

Stosur, 35, has slipped to 98 in the world rankings and has never played well in front of her home fans in Brisbane, but with new coach and former doubles partner, Rennae Stubbs at her side, she played a strong tactical game to overcome Kerber.

“She knows all the players, her tactical awareness and everything about the players is excellent,” Stosur said.

“That was something last year when I was going through without a coach, I found hard to do that day after day.

“Even though we know a lot of players and you know what to do, having that other set of eyes doing that is obviously very helpful.”

The young American Sofia Kenin prevailed against Anastasija Sevastova, 7-6 6-4, in an hour and 34 minutes, beating the Latvian for the second time in as many matches.

Kenin repelled 3 out of 5 break chances and added 3 breaks to her tally to find herself in the next round.

They traded breaks in games seven and eight of the opening set and it was Kenin who had the momentum in the tiebreak, winning it 7-1 and racing into a 3-0 lead in set number two.

The Latvian broke back in game 5 to stay on the positive side of the scoreboard until game 10 when she cracked under pressure, getting broken and handing the win to world No. 14.

Alison Riske needed an hour and 18 minutes to dismiss Karolina Muchova, 6-4 6-2, suffering one break and securing 4 to control the scoreboard and kick off the season with a win.

In the battle of two Aussies with a wild card, Ajla Tomljanovic beat Priscilla Hon, 6-2 4-6 6-4, after 2 hours and 18 minutes, breaking the younger compatriot at 3-3 in the decider and bringing the victory home from there.

Taking to the courts for the first time this year on Tuesday are Naomi Osaka against Maria Sakkari and wild card Maria Sharapova who takes on qualifier Jennifer Brady for the right to take on the top seeded Barty.

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