Karolina Pliskova and Serena Williams, both of whom received byes, eased through their opening matches at the Yarra Valley Classic on Monday, dropping a combined 10 games in second round action, while Britain’s Francesca Jones fell to Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, the 14th seed.
It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she's from here, so she obviously always plays hard, so it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end... It feels good to be back here. I felt that I was definitely composed and in a zone and just trying to do the things I've been working on. Serena Williams
Late in the afternoon, 2020 WTA Newcomer of the Year Podoroska scored her first win of the new season in just under an hour and a half over Jones, ranked 244, 6-1 6-3.
Jones has drawn interest from media and fans both in her home country and abroad after winning three qualifying matches in Dubai to assure her Grand Slam main draw debut later this month.
The 20-year-old was born with a rare genetic condition called Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia (EED), and has a thumb and 3 fingers on each hand and 7 toes.
In a match that was closer than the scoreline suggested, Podoroska largely had all the answers in the face of pressure from Jones.
In the penultimate game of the match, however, the Brit battled to hold in an 18-point, 6 deuce service game in which she saved 4 match points, and only succumbed to defeat after breaking serve for the first time.
Serena Williams stepped onto Margaret Court Arena wearing what looked like two warm-up garments, a jacket and a wind-cheater, and only removed one during the course of straight sets win over Australian wild card Daria Gavrilova.
Considering that both played little tennis over the past 12 months, they looked sharp but Williams’ pedigree was always going to dominate and she sailed through, 6-1 6-4.
Williams bore her fortnight of quarantine in better grace than some, saying it was all for the greater good.
The 39-year-old took 6 months off and appeared fit and fresh and the occasion, played in front of a negligible crowd, was somewhat pedestrian.
Not that Gavrilova look cobwebbed or over-awed, but she did look like the lesser player, ranked some 440 places below Williams after two years off the WTA Tour.
Gavrilova won the first 3 points against Williams’s serve, but then the American got going and rolled over any hurdles put in her path.
After saving 4 break points in the opening game of the match, Williams largely had it all her own way against the 26-year-old, who competed hard in an effort that might not have been completely reflected on the scoreboard.
“It was a good match for me,” said Williams. “It wasn’t easy at all.
“It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she’s from here, so she obviously always plays hard, so it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end.”
It is to the Aussie’s credit that Williams broke her only 3 times.
In the hush of MCA, there were no lines-people, and no arguments as a disembodied voice called ‘out’, prompted by the electronic line calling system.
There were ball-kids, but it was DYI towels, a red box for Williams and blue one for Gavrilova, in one of 50 matches played at Melbourne Park on Monday out of the 388 matches scheduled over 8 days to provide practice for those sorely lacking it.
To give them order and meaning, they are divided into 6 tournaments being played at one time in one place.
“It feels good to be back here,” said Williams, after striking 27 winners to 15 unforced errors. “I felt that I was definitely composed and in a zone and just trying to do the things I’ve been working on.”
Earlier in the day Pliskova struck 7 aces and 30 winners to dispatch 20-year-old Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto, 6-3 6-2, in an hour and 17 minutes, earning herself a whopping 18 break point chances and converting on 5 of them.
“I feel like I need some matches so I’m definitely happy that I’m through to the next round,” the Czech said after the match. “I felt like I did a good job in the second set especially… and as the match went on, I felt I was playing better and better.
“I just need to find the rhythm again of playing tournaments and I thought it was a good start.
“Overall, I want to move better, but everything comes with a better feeling when you trust yourself a little more.
“Without too many matches, you’re thinking maybe a little bit too much, but I think I did a good job today. I just want to build on that and keep improving.”
Up next for Pliskova is a match against No 13 seed and former Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins, who eased to a 6-1 6-2 victory over Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic.
“We’ve never played, and there aren’t many players like this for me except the young ones,” Pliskova said. “It’s going to be an interesting match and I’m looking forward to it.
“She’s playing well here always every year, so it’s going to be a nice match.”
There was little trouble for the No 11 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova opened her campaign with a comfortable win over Misaki Doi, Japan’s No 3.
The Russian, a three-time AO quarter-finalist, raced out of the blocks against, winning 8 of the first 9 games in just over 30 minutes.
Although Doi put up some late resistance in the second set getting back even from a 4-2 deficit, it was short-lived.
The left-hander dropped serve for a 4th time in the penultimate game and was unable to convert either of her 2 break point chances to extend the match.
One seeded player who was not as fortunate on Monday was No 9 Donna Vekic, who was beaten by Tsetvetana Pironkova for the second time in 4 events since the Bulgarian returned to tennis last summer.
Pironkova rallied for a 1-6 6-4 6-2 win over the Croatian to advance through to R3.
The Bulgarian, who spent more than 3 years away from the sport while raising a son, will next face Serena Williams, to whom the former World No 31 lost a three-set quarter-final in New York and was the beneficiary of a second-round walkover at the French Open at the end of September.
Former Top 30 player Camila Giorgi will be the first opponent for No 2 seed and reigning AO champion Sofia Kenin in the latter’s return to Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old Italian, now ranked World No 76, beat French teenager Clara Burel in early action on Monday, 6-4 6-3, to secure just her second win since last summer’s US Open.
Despite serving 8 double faults and losing her serve 3 times, prowess on return and 5 breaks against Burel proved more than enough for the Italian to move safely through the opening round encounter.