Muguruza, Watson & Swiatek early winners in Melbourne, as others falter

Garbiñe Muguruza opened her Australian Open campaign with a scrappy win over Clara Burel early on Tuesday, while there were mixed fortunes for Britons Heather Watson and Harriet Dart, the former scoring an impressive 3-set win over Mayar Sherif and the latter falling to Iga Swiatek in two.

I'm a winner and I'm so motivated here, especially the early rounds. You know you're nervous, and you want to get through these matches where everybody can beat everybody. Very happy now I could manage to finish 6-4 in the second set." Garbiñe Muguruza

There was early joy for Australia too, with wild cards Sam Stosur and Maddison Inglis advancing to round two, but Petra Kvitova’s hopes were dashed by Sorana Cirstea.

A delighted Watson won her first Grand Slam match in a year with a gruelling 6-3 5-7 62 over Sherif from Egypt after having ended a 7-match losing streak dating back to August in Adelaide last week.

Now ranked down at 94, the British No 2 is 32 places lower than Sherif, but she is now playing with the confidence akin to that took her to a career high of 38 in 2015, thumping 40 winners and putting aside the disappointment of losing the second set.

The 29-year old had to fight back from a break of serve down in the deciding set to reach the second round in Melbourne for the third year in a row, where she will play Tamara Zidansek, the 29th seed from Slovenia, who battled past Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 3-6 6-3 7-6(8).

Dart, who came through 3 rounds of qualifying to reach the main draw for the third time, lost 6-3 6-0 to 7th seed and former French Open champion Iga Swiatek.

The 25-year old is ranked 123 and found herself facing the young Pole on Rod Laver Arena where she suffered a chastening debut in 2019, thanks to a 6-0 6-0 drubbing by former champion Maria Sharapova, and lost 6-2 6-4 to former world number one Simona Halep the following year.

Dart, who won 5 matches in a warm-up tournament and qualifying this month, broke 2020 French Open champion Swiatek and held for a 3-1 lead in the first set, and dented the Pole with some classy winners, but the 20-year-old found her rhythm to win 5 games in a row and turned the match in her favour.

After her good start, Dart did little wrong while Swiatek cut out her errors and sailed through the second set, winning 11 games on the trot to send the British No 3 packing.

“You could see that first few games were pretty tricky for me,” said Swiatek later. “With the sun, I know I got broken in my second service game.

“I’m pretty happy that I was patient, I found the rhythm throughout the match. That’s pretty positive.”

Swiatek now meets Rebecca Peterson after the Swede dispatched local wild card Daria Saville, 6-2 6-3.

The Pole, who is in Melbourne with her new coach Tomasz Wiktorowski, who previously worked with Agnieszka Radwanska, admits the collaboration is a work in progress but believes she is heading in the right direction.

“He didn’t change a lot at the beginning because he was good to continue the process that I’ve had,” she said. “Too many changes would be really confusing. We’re focusing on different stuff.

“We’re working on my strengths, which is great, because it’s going to give me confidence.”

Garbine Muguruza was stretched at times by Clara Burel at Melbourne Park but prevailed

© Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Meanwhile, 3rd-seeded Muguruza came through her first outing on Rod Laver Arena since 2 match points slipped her grasp in a tough 4th-round exit to eventual champion Naomi Osaka last year.

The Spaniard rebounded with a title win in Dubai, her first in almost 2 years and the first of 3 last season, which ended with her WTA Finals triumph in Guadalajara in November.

At 28, Muguruza knows all about the highs and lows of the game: “I never lose the motivation. There’s always ups and downs as an athlete,” she said.

“The crowd makes a big difference. When it’s behind you, you feel like fire and feel excited. I’m so happy that this year we have a crowd here.”

One of 8 Frenchwomen in the main draw, 77th-ranked Burel faced a top-10 opponent for only the second time in her young career, and she gave the 3rd seed plenty to ponder early on.

“I didn’t know really who I was facing. We’ve never played before,” Muguruza told reporters afterwards. “Very tricky. You’re always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign.

“I’m very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves.”

A double-fault to drop serve at 3-all, though, undid Burel’s hard work, and Muguruza stamped her authority with a 3rd successive break 2 games later for the set as 17 unforced errors from her 20-year-old opponent proved costly.

Her 6-3 6-4 win over Burel should have been an easier affair as the Frenchwoman coughed up 11 double-faults in the process, and while neither showed any hesitation closing at net, it was a succession of winners from Muguruza in the forecourt that gave her the breathing space of a second-set break.

After easing to a 5-3 lead, though, she failed to convert 3 match points as the Frenchwoman made a late charge, forcing Muguruza to up her game to break back again, and then seal the win after 88 minutes.

“I’m a winner and I’m so motivated here, especially the early rounds,” she said. “You know you’re nervous, and you want to get through these matches where everybody can beat everybody.

“Very happy now I could manage to finish 6-4 in the second set.”

The win extended her perfect run of first round wins at the Australian Open to 10, a record of which she was fully aware.

The Spaniard will next take on another French player, Alizé Cornet, who got past Viktoriya Tomova, a qualifier from Bulgaria, 6-2 6-3.

Petra Kvitova was dispatched by Sorana Cirstea on Day 2 of the Australian Open, capping a disappointing run Down Under

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Elsewhere, Kvitova, a former World No 2, insists she still has the game to compete with the best players in the world after crashing out in the first round on Tuesday to Cirstea, 6-2 6-2.

The left-handed Czech looked out of sorts on court as she hit a staggering 39 unforced errors to only 7 winners, and managed to win just 41% of her second service points as she was broken 4 times in the match

“I don’t have much to say,” a despondent Kvitova said. “It wasn’t really going my way the whole month.

“That’s how it is, I think. It’s a sport, and I just have to fight through and be better at it.

“I think that she [Cirstea] likes my game, she just is going to it and she has to risk, and everything [she hit] was in.

“I think, for her, I think, it’s a little bit tougher when she has to create the game, and this time it was just there and putting fast balls back.”

Kvitova’s loss comes after a lacklustre start to the season, with early losses in both Adelaide and Sydney, but the two-time Grand Slam champion is confident she will be able to turn her fortunes around.

“I think it’s [my game] still there. It’s just I think I didn’t play a lot of matches at the beginning of this year,” she explained. “I did have some health issues the whole month, as well, so it was tough to practice during home month.

“It wasn’t really as easy this beginning of the season, but the season is long, so I hope that it will turn around.”

Cirstea, who hails from Romania, she will play Kristína Kucova from Slovakia in the second round, a 6-3 7-5 winner over Japan’s Misaki Doi.

A delighted Sam Stosur came through in 3 sets against Robin Anderson in a battle of wild-cards in Melbourne

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Aussie fans are delighted that their wild-cards are doing well at Melbourne Park, with Stosur’s 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3 win over Grand Slam debutante Robin Anderson from the USA, and Inglis’ dismissal of Leylah Fernandez from Canada, 6-4 6-2.

Stosur, who plans to retire from singles play after the AO, struck 12 aces, and saved 7 of 9 break points against the former UCLA standout, and a packed Kia Arena roared in unison when the Aussie’s short, precise backhand volley befuddled Anderson on match point.

“The crowd was amazing,” Stosur said. “It was a really nice court to play on.

“It was a great atmosphere. Obviously the crowd was right behind me, which was really nice and special to have.”

The 2011 US Open champion and mother to 19-month-old Evie announced in late December that this would mark her singles farewell, although she will continue to play doubles this season alongside Zhang Shuai, travelling, If possible, with her family on tour.

The 37-year old, who is ranked 487 these days, next meets her occasional doubles partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 10th seed, after the Russian dispatched Hungary’s Anna Bondar, 6-2 6-1.

Stosur leads the head-to-head against last year’s French Open finalist 5-4, claiming the last two, both on clay.

“Obviously it’s going to be a tough one, no doubt,” said Stosur. “She’s still one of the best players in the world, had a great year last year.

“It’s the second round. I can go out there and have some fun again.”

Inglis was left ‘shaking’ and close to tears after upsetting Fernandez, the US Open finalist, in what proved to be a day to remember for the 24-year old.

It took the World No 133 under 90 minutes to stun the Canadian, breaking in the 7th game of the opening set and then racing into a 4-0 lead in the second before failing to convert her first match point but getting the job done on her next.

“I’m super stoked with how I played today,” she said on court. “I thought I executed the game-plan really well and I held my nerve really well and I’m so happy to win my first round at the AO.

“It’s incredible. I’ve had a few goes at it and I kind of joked around saying, ‘Third time lucky’, and it turns out it was. I’m really looking forward to keep it going.

“I’m going to cry.”

For Fernandez it was a major disappointment following the highs of 2021 when she finished runner-up to Emma Raducanu at the US Open.

“Today was just not a good day. Too many mistakes,” she said. “I’ll give credit to Maddie. She played a great match from beginning to end.”

Inglis will next face 20-year-old American qualifier Hailey Baptiste for a spot in the third round after the World No 165 Baptiste overcame former Top 5 player Caroline Garcia of France, 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3 in just over 2 hours.

Simona Halep got her AO campaign under way with a a straight sets win over Magdalena Frech

© Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

There were early wins also for Simona Halep, Anett Kontaveit and Elise Mertens.

Simona Halep, the 14th seed from Romania, beat Poland’s Madgalena Frech, 6-4 6-3, to kick off her 2022 AO campaign, the former World No 1 taking an hour and a half to dispatch the current World No 102.

“The first match is always tough,” Halep said in her post-match press conference. “I was very nervous. But I’m really happy with the way I played, with the way I’ve been on court. Going through to the second round makes me happy.

“I feel like in the big picture, [it] was a good game for the first match. It’s always tough. I’m always nervous. But also she didn’t play that bad.

“She was playing well. She was running very well. She was moving well. I think was a good match and I take only the positives.

“I don’t believe I am at the highest level, my highest level, like in the past. But I feel good. I feel confident that the game is there, the movement is there. The mental is pretty strong.”

Halep is seeking her first AO title, which would go with her 2018 Roland Garros and 2019 Wimbledon crowns.

6th seed Kontaveit of Estonia powered past Doubles No 1 and World No 48 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-2 6-3, to claim her spot in the second round in an hour 21 minutes.

“I think the first-round matches at Grand Slams I’m always a little bit nervous,” said Kontaveit. “But I felt like as the match progressed, I was feeling more comfortable on the court and just finding my game a little bit more.

“I think I could have served a little better today, but I’m very happy with the win today.”

Seeded in the Top 10 at a Grand Slam event for the first time in her career, Kontaveit continues to carry over the form that saw her finish 2021 as the hard-court match-win leader, notching 39 victories on that surface last year.

In a first-round battle between former Australian Open semi-finalists, No19 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium defeated Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-4 7-5, in just under two hours.

Mertens, who reached the final four in Melbourne in 2018, claimed her second win in two meetings with former World No 2, who was an Australian Open semi-finalist back in 2009 and 2011.

Mertens had 3 more winners and 5 fewer unforced errors than Zvonareva, as she eked out two close sets.



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