Melbourne | Swiatek gets off the mark

World No 1 Iga Swiatek got her Australian Open campaign off the mark with a tight win over former champion Sofia Kenin on Tuesday, while Jelena Ostapenko, Daria Kasatkina, and Victoria Azarenka were amongst others to also advance to round 2 as early Day 3 winners.

For sure I can't say that I have easy draw here. I'll try to do my best. Danielle is a really good player. We played really tight matches. On the other hand our last match was pretty -- I mean, from the score, I had it under control. We'll see. Every match is different. I'm not going to anticipate anything. I'm just going to be ready and we'll see. Iga Świątek

In a rematch of the 2020 Roland Garros final, Kenin proved a tough challenge for the top seed in the opening match on Rod Laver Arena, but Swiatek, recovering from a slow start, passed her first test by edging past the American, 7-6(2) 6-2, to set up a meeting with Danielle Collins, the 2022 finalist at Melbourne Park.

“Really happy,” said Swiatek, who hit 30 winners. “It wasn’t easy to find my rhythm at the beginning, and I felt a little bit off. I felt like Sofia did everything to keep it that way, so huge respect to her.

“She won this tournament, so she knows what to do. But I’m happy that I managed to bring my level up in the second set.”

Swiatek came from a break down twice in the first set against the woman who won her only major title in Melbourne in 2020.

In fact, the American led 3-1 and served for a one-set lead at 5-4, but Swiatek wrapped up the opener after more than an hour on court, striking 21 winners to 12, and then winning the last 5 games for the win in an hour and 51 minutes.

The 22-year old Pole has now won her last 17 matches dating back to a loss to Veronika Kudermetova in Tokyo in September, the longest winning streak on the Hologic WTA Tour since Swiatek posted a 37-match winning run in 2022, and her remarkable tenacity was on full view on Tuesday

“Honestly, I try not to focus on who is going to be on the other side of the net,” she said later. “I want to play my game, and I know that, if I want to play well at this tournament, I have to be able to win against everyone. If I’m worth to be in the second round, it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against.

“Tennis is a pretty tricky sport with the draws; you can play former champions, World No 1s or really experienced players. You never know who is going to be there, so you have to be ready, no matter what.”

Iga Swiatek, the top seed, needed all her defensive skills and tenacity to get past Sofia Kenin on Day 3 at Melbourne Park

© Martin Keep/AFP via Getty Images

Kenin is a dangerous opponent, and the 25-year old was the quicker out of the blocks taking a 3-1 lead, but frustration over an automatic line call saw her hand her advantage back.

The unseeded American was soon up another break as Swiatek struggled to serve into the sun, but the Pole turned the tables as Kenin served for the set, and raced through the ensuing tiebreak to seal the opener, while a tense second set came to a head in the 5th game when the top seed, who had already saved break point on her own serve, converted her second chance when Kenin erred on the backhand side.

Swiatek consolidated with some strong serving, despite the pressure being applied, and she grabbed an insurance break behind a Kenin double-fault, before serving it out by forcing one last forehand error from Kenin to edge over the line.

“I felt a little bit off in terms of the timing,” admitted Swiatek. “You could see I played a couple of frames.

“For sure, the temperature was higher than any match I played this season. I needed to adjust to that. The balls were a little bit flying out of control. That’s normal in these conditions.

“At the beginning I knew I could do a little bit more in terms of the placement. I wanted to be more aggressive. But on the other hand I was backing down a little bit. I just wanted to go forward and be proactive and have initiative. For sure when I started second set, it was a little bit easier for me to do that.”

Up next for Swiatek is a match against Collins, a former World No 7, against whom she lost in the semi-finals of the 2022 Australian Open before the American lost to Ashleigh Barty in the final, but the Pole has won their other 5 meetings, including 3 last year.

Swiatek paid tribute to retired Barty, revealing the 3-time Grand Slam champion was a major source of motivation in her own ascension to the top of the women’s game.

Barty’s shock retirement in the wake of her 2022 Australian Open triumph eventually promoted Swiatek to the No 1 spot, an honour she has held for 86 of the past 94 weeks, during which time she has won 4 majors and the 2023 WTA Finals in Mexico.

“Ash changed a lot … my mindset going into 2022 and I think that was like a breakthrough for me,” Swiatek said during her on-court interview. “She really motivated me and I feel, like, it was one of the reasons I later became World No 1.

“I’m really grateful for her. I’m not sure if I would be World No 1 if she was still playing [but] she was a huge inspiration.”

Later in her press conference, Swiatek added: “It was really annoying losing against [Barty] and playing against her because, as I said, you knew what she’s going to play, in terms of the tactics and the placement. She did it so well, there was nothing you could do. It really annoyed me. I wanted to get better, be able to be solid when she’s playing her slices.

“Even though she wasn’t the tallest [player], she served really well and the placement was amazing. I knew that if I’m going to be working hard, it could be possible for me. She really motivated me.

“Also, off court, I felt like she has distance to everything what’s going on. Yeah, for sure she felt a lot of pressure and stress. She was always in her own bubble, in the zone. I really respected that.”

Barty and Swiatek faced each other twice on tour, first in Madrid and later in Adelaide, with the Australian winning both clashes in straight sets.

Former AO finalist Danielle Collins needed 3 sets to see off Angelique Kerber and set up a 2nd-round encounter with Iga Swiatek

© Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

This time round Down Under, Swiatek has the toughest of draws, and must get past Collins next.

“For sure I can’t say that I have easy draw here,” Swiatek said. “I’ll try to do my best. Danielle is a really good player. We played really tight matches. On the other hand our last match was pretty — I mean, from the score, I had it under control. We’ll see.

“Every match is different. I’m not going to anticipate anything. I’m just going to be ready and we’ll see.”

Collins was a 6-2 3-6 6-1 winner over former Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion Angelique Kerber in an hour and 52-minute.

“I was really happy with how I played,” Collins said afterward. “It was nice to have a longer match to get some court time and kind of settle into things, and get a good challenge, because ultimately you want to play these types of matches and it’s what makes tennis fun.”

Collins slammed 16 winners in the first set to Kerber’s 4, but the American’s high-risk game led to a patch of errors in the last 3 games of the second, where the German’s trademark grit held sway.

Regrouping with exceptional returns in the decider, Collins held break points in every Kerber service game, and claimed 6 consecutive games to win.

Kerber is part of a quartet of mothers making their Melbourne returns along with Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina, having given birth to daughter Liana last February.

Two-time AO champion Victoria Azarenka battled past Camila Giorgi in 3 sets and meets Clara Tauson next

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

There were also victories for two other former Grand Slam winners, with 18th seed Victoria Azarenka from Belarusian beating Italian Camila Giorgi, 6-1 4-6 6-3, and Sloane Stephens from the USA seeing off Aussie Olivia Gadecki, 6-3 6-1.

Azarenka, a back-to-back Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, brings her best tennis to Melbourne and was a semi-finalist here last year.

She started her 2024 AO campaign by winning 84% of her first-service points to top 53rd-ranked Giorgi, and notched up her 48th career match-win at Melbourne Park, the 6th-most in the Open Era, in the process.

Azarenka has one more hurdle to overcome ahead of a potential meeting with Ostapenko, if seedings hold, as she faces another big-hitting player in the 2nd-round when she takes on 21-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark, who was a 7-5 7-5 winner over Belgian Greet Minnen.

Stephens, the 30-year-old American who won the US Open in 2017, took 5 straight games from 0-2 down in the opening set, and eased through the second to clinch the win in just under an hour.

“Really pleased with the way I played,” said Stephens, who reached the semi-finals of the event in 2013 but who has lost in the 1st-round in 7 of her past 8 visits to Melbourne. “I’ve been working a lot on making the opponents play. I think that’s something I had got away from. Pleased with the win.”

Jelena Ostapenko (R) had her hands full against wild-card Kimberly Birrell but found her way through to round 2 on Tuesday

© Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Ostapenko, the 11th seed from Latvia, got past Australian wild-card Kimberly Birrell, 7-6(5) 6-1, surviving a tricky first set before advancing in an hour and 40 minutes.

Ostapenko, an AO quarter-finalist last year, has started the year at a blistering pace, winning 8 of her first 9 matches in 2024, and her 7th career title 3 days ago at the Adelaide International, which nudged her back into the Top 10 for the first time since September of 2018.

The Latvian needed to muster up every bit of that Top 10 form against Birrell, the World No 116, who battled back from 2-5 down in the first set, then held 2 break points to take a 6-5 lead and serve for the first set.

Ostapenko, though, got out of that jam and squeaked into a first-set tiebreak, where, after falling behind an early mini-break, she found some fierce forehands to reach triple set point at 6-3, then fired one more winner from that wing to close out the set.

After grinding through the 72-minute opener, things got easier for the 2017 Roland Garros champion in the second, and she won all 8 of her first-service points and converted 3 of her 4 break chances.

Elsewhere, rising American 22-year old Peyton Stearns making her AO debut, was praised for dashing off court at a crucial moment of her 1st-round match to help a sick ball kid.

Stearns was on set point for the second set against 14th seed Daria Kasatkina when the Melbourne Park heat, which reached 31 degrees in the afternoon but felt much more intense in the sun, struck down one of the young helpers at Kia Arena.

The ball kid was receiving treatment in the shade from tournament officials when Stearns rushed to get an ice towel and brought it over to the youngster.

She returned to take the set, but Kasatkina recovered to win the match, 6-2 3-6 6-2, and faces Stephens next.

Emma Navarro, seeded 27, fresh off her first WTA Tour title win last week at the Hobart International, defeated China’s Wang Xiyu, 6-1 6-7(5) 7-5, for a 9-1 record this year.

“It’s pretty surreal to be here,” she said before the match. “I played juniors here four years ago, and wasn’t sure if I’d ever be back. It’s been a busy four years, and I’m happy to be back.”

Navarro faces No 66 Elisabetta Cocciaretto in the 2nd-round after the Italian defeated Swiss Lulu Sun, 7-6(5) 6-1.



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