Adelaide’s defending champion Iga Swiatek got off to a flying start on Tuesday with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 win over Daria Saville (née Gavrilova) at Memorial Drive, while Elina Svitolina fell to Anastasia Gasanova, 5-7 6-4 6-3.
I wasn't expecting to play the way I played today. I felt really focused, one point at a time from the beginning of the match. It's very easy to find some things you still want to work on, I'm a perfectionist on the court, but for the first match I knew I had a really, really tough opponent, so I was really prepared and I'm glad the way I started the year. Whatever I was working on paid off. Victoria Azarenka
Swiatek, who defeated Belinda Bencic to win last year’s title and is seeded 5th here this year, had no issues against Saville, a former Top 20 player, as she defeated the Australian qualifier in 79 minutes.
Saville missed almost all of last year due to an Achilles injury but has had a long list of top-level wins in her career, with 11 Top 10 wins to her credit. In the off-season she married Luke Saville.
Poland’s Swiatek is the youngest player in the Top 10 at the age of 20, won the title last year without dropping a set, emulating her 2020 Roland Garros championship, which she also won in straight sets.
Although she fell behind an early break at 2-1 in the opening set, Swiatek won 5 of the next 6 games to take the one-set lead and had an even easier time in the second in which she never faced a break point.
The Pole finished the match with a 76 percent success rate returning the Saville second serve, which pressured the Aussie into double-faults on the last two points of the encounter.
“I just focused on my game and being on court,” Swiatek said in her post-match press conference. “I wanted to implement some stuff that I practiced here.
“It went out pretty well, so I’m pretty happy. It was solid match, so it’s a good start.”
The No 5 seed will next face US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez in the second round.
In earlier matches, American teenager Coco Gauff beat Norwegian qualifier Ulrikke Eikeri, 6-2 6-1, to set up a second-round contest against top-ranked Ash Barty, while compatriot and 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin got past Lucia Bronzetti, a qualifier from Italy, 7-5 7-5.
The former World No 4 had her hands full with 148th-ranked Bronzetti, who reached her first 3 WTA singles quarter-finals last season.
Kenin led 5-2 in the second set before Bronzetti stormed back to 5-5, and the Italian saved 5 match points before the American recovered to clinch victory after an hour and 44 minutes.
In the second round, the World No 12 Kenin will take on home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic next, who defeated Britain’s Heather Watson on Monday.
Gauff faced 3 break points in the opening frame but fended each of them off as she claimed the one-set lead, and the second set proved even more one-sided for the American.
With the victory, Gauff sets up an enticing encounter with Barty on the Australian’s home soil since the American advanced past the Aussie in last year’s Rome quarter-finals, after Barty retired from the match due to an arm injury.
Gasanova’s defeat of 8th-seeded Svitolina took the Russian 2 hours and 34 minutes after she overcame back issues to seal her 3-set win over the Ukrainian.
Svitolina won a tight first set but the 22-year-old broke serve early in the second before needing to take a medical timeout.
The Ukrainian recovered the deficit immediately when play resumed but Gasanova broke again in the very next game and went on to close out the set.
The pair traded breaks early in the decider but Gasanova finally prevailed to knock out the former World No 3.
The World No 130 has now won both of her career matches against Top 20 players, and they both came in the opening week of the year – In 2021, Gasanova shocked Karolina Pliskova in the season-opening event in Abu Dhabi.
Playing her first main-draw match in Australia, Gasanova was unfazed after dropping the first set, and she broke 15th-ranked Svitolina 3 times apiece in the 2nd and 3rd sets to grit out the upset.
“I was just working so hard every single day [in the off-season], and I was just giving everything,” 22-year-old Gasanova said on court, following her win.
Japan’s Misaki Doi also progressed with a 6-3 3-6 6-1 win over Kristina Kucova from Slovakia, while America’s Shelby Rogers beat Australian qualifier Maddison Inglis, 6-1 6-3, to set up a second round clash with Maria Sakkari.
In the night session, Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka upset her doubles partner, Paula Badosa, in straight sets, avenging the loss she suffered at the hands of the Spaniard in last year’s Indian Wells final in a heart-breaking final set tiebreak.
Azarenka took out the No 4 seed, 6-3 6-2, after an hour and 17 minutes.
Such was the mutual respect between the two that they joked on social media about a rematch in 2022.
“It came back in my face right away,” said Azarenka after winning in Adelaide. “Honestly, it’s been the most chaotic pre-season I’ve ever had.
“I was actually really nervous before the tournament, I felt really unprepared.
“For me to come out here and produce this type of tennis really makes me proud of the competitor I am.”
The first 6 games picked up where they left off at Indian Wells, with high-octane exchanges as both battled for baseline supremacy.
Badosa, who twice went up a break, only for Azarenka to peg her back, combined her heavy striking with stellar foot-speed but the Belarusian’s wider repertoire swung the momentum in her favour.
With the Spaniard serving at 3-2, Azarenka produced a pair of brilliant volley winners, including one when Badosa held a point to lead 4-2, before breaking for 3-3 that began a 4-game winning streak.
When Azarenka broke again for 5-3, it took her 3 set points to seal the set with a drive volley.
In the second she dominated, breaking for 2-1 i with a marvellous lob, and again for 5-2 with another classy volley.
Raising her first serve percentage from 65% to 77%, Azarenka did not face a break point herself in the second set, and converted her first match point as a Badosa backhand found the net.
Azarenka struck 24 winners to Badosa’s 20, and committed fewer unforced errors, 14 to 18, while the Spaniard’s 4 double faults, which came in the first 3 games of the match, although she compensated with 5 aces overall.
“I wasn’t expecting to play the way I played today,” she said in the on-court interview. “I felt really focused, one point at a time from the beginning of the match.
“It’s very easy to find some things you still want to work on, I’m a perfectionist on the court, but for the first match I knew I had a really, really tough opponent, so I was really prepared and I’m glad the way I started the year. Whatever I was working on paid off.”
The two-time Australian Open champion will continue her bid for a 7th title on Australian soil against wild-card Priscilla Hon, who pulled off a first-round upset over Petra Kvitova on Monday.