Half a day’s play was lost on Tuesday when, first, searing heat and then torrential rain disrupted matches on the outside courts at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
It's been a great start, it's the best start I ever had. But the season is long, and we're trying to grind every week, and trying to win tournaments, playing every single week. It's never easy but I'm optimistic for this year. Belinda Bencic
A 3-hour delay from 2pm – 5pm due to the extreme heat, as the temperature hit 37C, and rain at around 8pm left 47 of the scheduled 64 matches yet to be completed.
Tournament organisers eventually made a call after 9pm to cancel most women’s singles matches that were yet to be played, moving them to Wednesday.
Other matches, mostly men’s, were moved onto different courts in an attempt to get them played before the end of the day.
Six women’s matches – Daria Kasatkina v Varvara Gracheva, Beatriz Haddad Maia v Nuria Parrizas Diaz, Lucrezia Stefanini v Tatjana Maria, Sloane Stephens v Anastasia Potapova, Irina-Camelia Begu v Elizabeth Mandlik and Lucia Bronzetti v Laura Siegemund – were cancelled.
Rain, unfortunately, is forecast for Wednesday morning in Melbourne.
Meanwhile, play continued on the main show-courts, protected from the elements by retractable roofs.
World No 2, Ons Jabeur, survived a very real scare against Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek, who pushed the 2nd seed for 2 very tight sets but collapsed in the decider, offering the Tunisian a welcome reprieve.
Despite the protection of the roof on Rod Laver Arena, the heat was still high for the first match of the night session, and when asked about her plans for recovery ahead of her next opponent, Jabeur said that along with scheduling in an ice bath, she planned on ‘making her husband work tonight’ to aid her resting period.
Doing a double-take, she then added that absolutely didn’t mean what everyone thought. and quickly explained that husband Karim Kamoun, whom she married in 2015, has also been working as her fitness coach for 7 years.
As fans laughed and cheered, the 28-year-old boomed: “Massage, guys! Massage!”
There was little fun on the court, though, as Jabeur was made to work hard for her opening win, winning 7-6(8) 4-6 6-, after 2 hours and 17 minutes of fluctuating play.
Jabeur had lost to the Slovenian in their last meeting, in 2019 Rome qualifying, and for much of the match struggled against both Zidansek’s excellent defensive skills and her own mounting error count.
No 98-ranked Zidansek has slipped from the level that saw her reach the 2021 Roland Garros semi-final, and she has not beaten a Top 50 player since her victory over Paula Badosa in that tournament’s quarter-finals, but she was able to showcase plenty of those skills until falling away in the deciding set.
At times the Tunisian behaved like a junior, throwing her racket and displaying poor body language as Zidansek pushed her into a raft of errors.
Jabeur who had strapping on her left knee, suffered early nerves as she dropped her opening service game against the World No 98, but broke back straight away.
Further breaks were exchanged before tJabeur eventually outlasted Zidansek, 10-8, in an attritional tiebreak at the end of a first set that had lasted a draining 68 minutes.
Having saving 3 set points in the opener, and then dropping her serve at 3-4 in the second, Jabeur was struggling with her form and was broken for a 3rd time, before the tenacious Slovenian took advantage to level the match.
Zidansek’s bathroom break allowed Jabeur to refocus, and she cleaned up her play, made fewer errors and sped away to victory as the Slovenian fell away.
“I just tried to follow what my coach told me to do,” Jabeur said of her turnaround. “I wasn’t really doing that and he’s going to kill me after the match.”
Jabeur committed 49 unforced errors during her stuttering opener, with Zidansek conceding 40 herself, but only 6 came in her much-improved third set.
“It was a very tough match,” said Jabeur. “I wasn’t playing very well, and she was putting a lot of pressure on me.
“She’s a player that doesn’t give up and brings every ball in, so I was getting pretty frustrated. I told myself to be No 2 in the world and just win this match.
“It was a tough match honestly. Just not the way I wanted to play. But I kept fighting.
“Frustrating to lose the second set but, I think, I got the time to think and talk to myself more. The third set was really great.”
Jabeur has yet to win her first Grand Slam title but reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022.
For her next step towards her goal, she must get past either Alison Riske-Armritraj or Marketa Vondrousa, whose match was held over until Wednesday because of the weather.
Meanwhile, 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic from Switzerland eased into the 2nd-round with a 6-1 6-2 win over Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova.
Bencic, who ended last season by leading Switzerland to the Billie Jean King Cup crown and is the reigning Olympic champion, came off her 7th career title at the Adelaide International 2 last week, and showed no signs of a letdown or fatigue.
Playing ruthlessly powerful and efficient tennis, Bencic took control from the start and, after opening a 2-0 lead, the Swiss managed the match to pocket the win after 67 minutes.
She held Tomova to 11 winners while firing 27 of her own, and paired her precision ball striking with minimal miscues, hitting just 12 unforced errors compared to Tomova’s 16, while she did not face a break point in the match.
“It’s been a great start, it’s the best start I ever had,” said Bencic, who improved her match record to 6-1 thisseason. “But the season is long, and we’re trying to grind every week, and trying to win tournaments, playing every single week.
“It’s never easy but I’m optimistic for this year.”
Bencic will face an American next, in either Madison Brengle or Claire Liu.
Things were a little more complicated for the No 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova from Russia, who still managed to find her way through under the roof in John Cain Arena, where defeated Belgian Maryna Zanevska, 6-2 7-6(4), in 97 minutes.
There were no signs of the left hip injury that forced Kudermetova to withdraw from her scheduled semi-final against Bencic in Adelaide last week.
Kudermetova lost just 3 points on her serve, breaking Zanevska twice in the first set, and found her best tennis when she needed it to win in two, coming from 2-4 down in the second set, and also saving two break points at 4-4.
“This win means a lot to me because all of my family was here today to support me,” Kudermetova said afterwards. “The first set, I played really well. I controlled everything.
“In the second set, my serve got a little bit worse, and Maryna, she started to play much better, much faster.
“I tried to do my best, just to fight and keep working. I think this was the key to the match today.”
After beating Zanevska in their second-ever meeting, and first in 6 years, Kudermetova earned a first-ever match against American Katie Volynets, who defeated compatriot Evgeniya Rodina, 6-3 6-2, for her first AO main-draw win.
Elsewhere, on 1573 Arena, Anett Kontaveit, the 16th seed from Estonia, eventually saw off Julia Grabher, ranked 83 from Switzerland, 6-2 6-3, in a 1st-round match suspended earlier on Tuesday due to the high temperatures and with the score at 1-1.
The match restarted around 5pm and was wrapped up in a little over an hour as Kontaveit cruised comfortably enough to victory in two sets.
Kontaveit strung together 4 game wins in a row from 2-2, breaking Grabher’s serve twice and taking the set, before she raced to a 4-0 lead in the second.
She then lost a lengthy game after failing to convert three times, but another break was enough to take the Estonian over the line on her second match point.
Kontaveit next faces the winner of Egypt’s Mayer Sherif and Madga Linette from Poland, whose match was held over until Wednesday.