Top seed and World No 1 Iga Swiatek got her Australian Open campaign underway with a tight win over Jule Niemeier, coming from a break down in the second set to hold off the German, while Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Danielle Collins also advanced.
For sure, I feel the expectations, that people, kind of, little bit, they want to take for granted that I'm going to win those first rounds. It's always not easy. Every match is a different story. You have to really work hard to make it done, to win. It just feels, like, sometimes, they're not treating you still as a human, but more like a robot who has to win. Iga Swiatek
Swiatek was made to fight for her 6-4 7-5 win over Niemeier, ranked 69, and will face Camila Osorio in the second round on Wednesday, after the Colombian beat Panna Udvardy from Hungary, 6-4 6-1.
21-year old Swiatek did well not to take Niemeier lightly, fully well aware of the blistering artillery she can produce, and the German, once again, proved to be a tough matchup for the Pole, who made it through to the semi-finals last year and hopes to go further.
Facing each other for the second consecutive Slam, 22-year old Niemeier had already taken Swiatek to 3 sets in their last meeting in the Round of 16 at the US Open, and she sustained pressure on the top seed’s serve throughout the opening set but, when the Pole needed a clutch serve or big backhand down the line, she delivered the shots.
Both were transitioning up the court when possible, but it was Niemeier offering up the early probes with greater success.
Locked at 3-3, Niemeier’s returns were pinning Swiatek to the baseline, forcing the top seed to rush her strokes but, after a back-pedalling overhead, the Pole had erased the 2 break points she faced.
Swiatek stubbornly held onto her own serve and, at 5-4, a bit more venom on her returns helped her steal away a cagey opener when she pounced at her first chance to break, taking the German’s delivery for the first time to win the opening set.
Niemeier struck back quickly in the second, earning a first break of the Swiatek serve to build a 3-1 lead, and she had a slight opening to earn a double-break lead but, again, the Pole steered to close the gap to 3-2.
Using pounding shots combined with crafty angles to surge 5-3 ahead, Niemeier served to take the match into a decider, but she faltered, and was broken in Swiatek’s best return game of the match to level the score at 5-5.
Taking 4 games in a row, Swiatek finally dissolved the resistance of the World No 69 to leap into the 2nd- round and a meeting with Osorio, having played an outstanding return game to seal the win after 1 hour and 59 minutes.
“Pretty amazing. Despite being pretty nervous, I really enjoyed it,” said Swiatek with a grin. “Honestly, I just wanted to focus on myself, because I know Jule can serve amazing
“ At US Open she was using the fast conditions and again she was really putting pressure on me.
“So I didn’t want to think about that, but what I could do to push her back. I’m really happy that I kept this attitude and got through this round. An opponent like Jule is always tricky.”
With a 14-1 record in major 1st-round outings, the top seed was the overwhelming favourite for the opening night session encounter, and many feel she is a shoe-in for the title.
“For sure, I feel the expectations, that people, kind of, little bit, they want to take for granted that I’m going to win those first rounds,” Swiatek told reporters after the match. “It’s always not easy.
“Every match is a different story. You have to really work hard to make it done, to win. It just feels, like, sometimes, they’re not treating you still as a human, but more like a robot who has to win.”
Interestingly, Swiatek is on a 19-match win streak at the Grand Slams when she wins the first set.
Just 49 per cent of first serves landed in from the Pole’s racket on Monday, though, and when they did, Swiatek enjoyed a 76 per cent success rate in points, so this will become an area of focus, no doubt, for her next practice session.
Meanwhile, Rybakina passed a stern test out on Court 13 to preserve her unbeaten record in the AO 1st-round, defeating Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto, 7-5 6-3, in 1 hour and 23 minutes.
Many felt that the reigning Wimbledon champion deserved a better stage, but the Russian-born Kazakh made sure she survived to play on a bigger court in the coming rounds.
21-year old Cocciaretto was coming off her maiden Hologic WTA Tour final in Hobart last week, a result that has enabled the Italian to make her Top 50 debut this week at No 48.
After a slow start, she kept Rybakina, the No 22 seed, on her toes throughout, and the 23-year-old Kazakh required 6 set points to close out the first set after Cocciaretto pegged her back from 5-2 to 5-5 with a flurry of forehand winners.
In the second, Rybakina had to overturn an early break deficit before pulling away and, with another return winner bringing up her first match point, she converted for the win.
In total, she fired 24 clean winners, including 5 aces on her way to setting up a meeting with Kaja Juvan from Slovenia, who was a 7-5 6-1 winner over French qualifier Selena Janicijevic to reach the 2nd-round.
Elsewhere, Danielle Collins, the runner-up last year to Ash Barty and seeded 13th, battled a left knee injury while defeating Russian Anna Kalinskaya, 7-5 5-7 6-4.
Collins required a medical timeout for the left knee issue early in the first set, and the match proved a tough test for the American, who sealed the win in just over 3 hours, in a contest that had everything and was one of the best of the opening day.
With heavy strapping, as well as the trademark celebrations from the American, Collins had prevailed against the odds.
Asking for the physio multiple times during the encounter, it is not known yet whether the damage sustained may take her out of the tournament in which she is defending a high number of ranking points.
Late into the night, Collins’ compatriot Madison Keys, the 10th seed, took a minute under 2 hours to see off Anna Blinkova from Russia, 6-4 3-6 6-2, on Margaret Court Arena.
The American next takes on Wang Xinyu from China, who defeated local hopeful wild-card Storm Hunter, 7-6(2) 6-4.