Madison Keys fended off a late come-back from 123rd-ranked British qualifier Harriet Dart, to secure a 6-3 7-6(2) win, opening her Melbourne Summer Set 2 campaign on Wednesday, her first tour match in more than two months, as seeds tumbled out of the draw.
I think Harriet raised her level in the second set so I was just really happy to have a clean match. Some things to work on, but overall pretty solid. Madison Keys
Keys missed out on last year’s Australian summer of tennis after testing positive for COVID, and is making a welcome return Down Under.
“At the start, obviously I was a little bit nervous and I feel like [two months is] not that long of a time, but in tennis world it is quite a long time to not play matches, so I was really happy to just quickly get back into it,” Keys told ausopen.com.
“I think Harriet raised her level in the second set so I was just really happy to have a clean match. Some things to work on, but overall pretty solid.”
Keys, a former World No 7, is now ranked 56 and the 87-minute win booked her a second-round meeting with 3rd seed Daria Kasatkina, who is now favourite for the title after her opponent, Anna Kalinskaya from Russia, retired at 6-1, 3-0 down.
“I was not overly happy with my results last year, but I think a big part of that was because I was so focused on results,” Keys added. “Those matches, where I kind of just let that go … is when I had my best results.”
A semifinalist at AO 2015, Keys admitted last year’s positive Covid test result came as a bitter blow, having put in the hard yards in the off-season.
“It definitely hurt,” she said. “I was pretty devastated when I found out [the positive test result].
“I was really looking forward to it. I had trained all off-season… The biggest thing that made me feel a little bit better was that I didn’t also make the entire plane have to quarantine, so I was really glad that I found out before I got on the plane and [didn’t] have a bunch of people who would have had to stay in their rooms for 14 days.
“I didn’t even know that I had Covid. I found out because I had to get tested for the flight and was completely fine.”
Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu took out top seed Jessica Pegula, 7-6(6) 6-3, her second career win over the American.
Pegula, 27, was a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open a year ago but was unable to re-capture that form on Tuesday against the 31-year old Romanian, who is ranked 62.
The World No 18, who was the top seed at a WTA event for the first time in her career, led 5-3 and had 3 set points in the opener.
It took Begu, a former World No 22, an hour 45 minutes to score a contest against Jasmine Paolini from Italy, who needed 3 sets to get past Anna Karolina Schmiedllova from Slovakia, 2-6 6-3 6-4.
Ahead of her 20th and final Australian Open singles appearance, Australia’s Sam Stosur came up narrowly short, 7-6(5) 7-6(5), against American qualifier Zhu Lin from China in the first round.
The 37-year-old former World No 4 held a set point in the opening set, and served for the second set at 5-4 only for the in-form World No 114 to reel her in after little more than two hours.
Stosur will call time on her singles career after the Australian Open, although she will continue to play doubles in 2022.
Zhu extended her winning streak to 7 matches after she closed out 2021 with her first WTA title in Seoul, having won through qualifying.
She next faces Danish 6th seed Clara Tauson, a 7-5 6-3 winner over Anhelina Kalinina from the Ukraine.
Stosur’s compatriots Astra Sharma and her Tokyo Olympics doubles partner Ellen Perez also fell at the first hurdle in the Melbourne Summer Set 2 event on Wednesday.
World No 107 Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated China’s Wang Xinyu, a Lucky Loser ranked 101, in the round of Last 32.
The Belarusian, who made it into the main draw after solving Australia’s World No 522 Olivia Tjandramulia, 6-2 6-3, and Ukraine’s No 118 Lesia Tsurenko, 7-5 6-1, in qualifying, will take on Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson.