MELBOURNE, Australia - World No.1 Simona Halep was given all she could handle by 17-year-old wildcard Destanee Aiava in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, but the Romanian rallied from a first-set hole for a 7-6(5), 6-1 victory on Rod Laver Arena.
The win for Halep snapped a three-match losing streak for the Romanian at the Australian Open, as she had been upset at the first hurdle by Shelby Rogers and Zhang Shuai in each of her past two trips.
However, she nearly lost her seventh straight set at the tournament as the World No.193 built a 5-2 lead in the first set with booming groundstrokes from the back of the court.
The top seed saved a pair of set points in the eighth game of the opener, which kicked off a run of three straight games which saw her draw level. As the set wound through to its conclusion in a tiebreak, the teenager drew first blood with the first mini-break, but the World No.1 rebounded to win six of the last eight points to get out of danger.
"The matches I played this year, I feel pretty confident. I feel that I never give up now. I improved in this way. I feel pretty solid on myself. Also, the team is helping me. We work together on these things," Halep said.
"Today, I just showed that I can do it, so I want just to keep this feeling."
Halep also had to handle more drama in the second set, however, as the top seed rolled her left ankle in the second game, needing a mid-match medical timeout.
Nonetheless, she battled through, broke serve upon resumption, and held on to her advantage for the duration of the match.
"I think the level that I played at today surprised me a bit. I just went out there and tried to have as much fun as I could. Just, you know, take the game to her, give her all I got," Aiava said in defeat. "I'm going to take a lot of confidence out of that match. Just being able to push her to 7-6, being 5-2 up, I feel great about myself, how I played.
"Hopefully I can go further a bit -- a little bit further next time."
Playing her first Grand Slam match as World No.1, Halep avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first women's top seed to lose her opening round at the Australian Open since her compatriot Virginia Ruzici in 1979 - who was ironically defeated by an Australian in Mary Sawyer.
"I think she played great. She played without not thinking but without emotions. She was not afraid of anything, so she was hitting very strong and very well," Halep added. "I was actually stressed a little bit because two years in a row I lost first round, so I didn't want to do the third one, but I think she's very good player and very talented, very powerful. She's going to be good in the future.
"I'm really happy that I could win the first round. It was really important."
The World No.1 will have a day to recover before she takes on Canada's Eugenie Bouchard in the second round on Thursday. Bouchard defeated France's Oceane Dodin in her first round match, 6-3, 7-6(5).