Melbourne | Rybakina and Pegula win in straight sets

Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula came through their opening gambits in straight sets in Tuesday’s night session matches, but not without some drama. 

It’s amazing to be back. No matter of the result of last year, I’m super happy to be back. It was very positive for me, even though I lost in the final. I just want to enjoy here and go as far as I can. Elena Rybakina

No 3 seed Rybakina, from Kazakhstan, recovered from a slow start to win 7-6(6) 6-4 over Karolina Pliskova after an hour and 33 minutes, saving triple set point in the first-set tiebreak along the way; while Pegula, the World No 5, had an easier time of it against Rebecca Marino, winning 6-2 6-4, in 65 minutes.

Rybakina, who was the runner-up in Melbourne last year to Aryna Sabalenka, has enjoyed a superb start to 2024, claiming her 6th career title in Brisbane two weeks ago, routing the Belarusian, 6-0 6-3, in the final .

The Russian-born Kazakh now owns a 7-1 win record this season after maintaining her perfect stat against two-time major finalist Pliskova, whom she now leads 4-0 in their head-to-head.

“It was a really tough match for me,” Rybakina said on court. “She played really well. It was not easy at all, especially a first round like this. But really happy I managed to win and survive the first [set]. In the second, it was a bit better.”

On Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina was slow out of the blocks, losing the first 8 points of the match in a flurry of forehand errors to go down 2-0.

Throughout the set, her ground-strokes were prone to misfiring, and the former Wimbledon champion committed 18 unforced errors to 11 winners in the opener.

A heavy backhand return, though, garnered her the break back for 2-2, and Rybakina held her first 3 set points at 6-5 on Pliskova’s serve, but the Czech managed to save them all, then appeared to have turned momentum in her favour as she advanced to 6-3 in the ensuing tiebreak.

Rybakina came up with clutch play to escape all 3 set points, including 2 with spectacular winners – a spectacular angled drop-shot at full stretch, and a crunching off-forehand that found the line.

Two points later, Rybakina converted her own 4th set point as a Pliskova sent a forehand long.

In the second, the Kazakh captured a crucial early break to move ahead 2-1, and played a cleaner set with 15 winners to 7 unforced errors to maintain her advantage.

With her back to the wall, Pliskova saved one match point serving at 3-5 and came up with a reflexed single-handed backhand pass to escape a 3rd in the next game, but, on the 4th, she had no answer to the forehand Rybakina thumped into the corner.

“It’s amazing to be back,” said Rybakina. “No matter of the result of last year, I’m super happy to be back. It was very positive for me, even though I lost in the final. I just want to enjoy here and go as far as I can.”

The 24-year-old Rybakina will face 57th-ranked Anna Blinkova from Russia, who defeated Spain’s Cristina Bucsa, 6-2 6-4, earlier in the day.

Jessica Pegula, the 5th seed, saw off qualifier Rebecca Marino in straight sets on Tuesday night

© Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

On Margaret Court Arena, Pegula, the 5th-seeded American, had an encounter with Marino, a Canadian qualifier, but prevailed with an unyielding straight sets scoreline.

Pegula demonstrated a commanding service game, achieving a remarkable 72% first serve rate, dwarfing Marino’s 44%.

The American also showed staunch defence against break-point opportunities, saving 4 out of 5 during the match.

Last week, Pegula had to withdraw from the latter stages of the Adelaide International due to stomach flu, but there was no sign of any fatigue or discomfort against Marino, as she fairly flew through the first set in just 26 minutes.

She sealed a vital break at 2-1 to head into the lead, and built that from there with a double break coming at 5-2 to head towards the opening set, which she took comfortably.

Marino did not get a single opportunity or remotely close on the Pegula serve as the American showed her quality throughout.

The second, though, was a tighter affair, and Pegula had to survive 2 break chances to make it 1-1, and then lost her serve at 3-3.

She broke straight back fairly comfortably, and Marino could not find her way back into the contest from there.

After going 4-3 up, Pegula held serve twice more, producing the win on her second match point to comfortably move into the 2nd-round, where, in round 2, will face France’s Clara Burel, who beat Aleksandra Kovic from Serbia, 6-4 6-1.

Home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic trailed in the deciding set but beat Petra Martic in front of a raucous crowd late on Tuesday night

© Phil Walter/Getty Images

In another late Tuesday result, home favourite Ajla Tomjlanovic continued her winning ways after returning from injury with a 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4 win over Petra Martic, from Croatia.

A year after being left heartbroken when a knee injury forced her out of her home Grand Slam, the 30-year-old made a triumphant and emotional return at John Cain Arena against the World No 40.

Trailing 1-4 in the deciding set, Tomljanovic came charging back to record a steely win in a 2 hour and 53 minute battle.

“She really keeps you on your toes and I felt like I never really got settled to play my game,” Tomljanovic said. “She hits amazing shots and then I can’t read her serve all the time, so I really felt, like, I had to hang in there because I knew it could turn on a dime.”

As the match edged closer to midnight, Tomljanovic was buoyed on by a passionate crowd.

“I really was out at one point. I felt like she was kind of toying with me,” Tomljanovic told the crowd in her post-match interview. “But 4-1 down, double break, you guys never gave up, even more than me. So I was like if you’re here, I should give it my best.”

This is Tomljanovic’s first Top 50 win since November 2022, marking another key milestone in her competitive return.

The challenges only increase for Tomljanovic from here, with World No 10 Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia waiting in the 2nd-round.

Ostapenko, who won last week’s Adelaide International title, eliminated Aussie wild-card Kimberly Birrell in the opening round, 7-6(5) 6-1.



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