MELBOURNE, Australia - Day 2 at the Australian Open was highlighted by the early exits of No.2 seed Simona Halep and No.8 seed Venus Williams, clearing the way for a surprise semifinalist to come through.
- Victoria Azarenka makes a statement: The No.14 seed picked up where she left off in at the Brisbane International and is remained undefeated for the season after double-bageling Alison Van Uytvanck in the first round. This was beyond domination. This was near perfection. The two played 72 points. Azarenka won 53 of them. Van Uytvanck won 19.
"I don't think I'm looking for perfection," Azarenka said. "I'm looking for effort. I'm looking for focus. I like that I was very composed today, from first point to the last point. Like it didn't matter what the score was, I was there on every point. So that's what I'm very happy about today." She'll play Danka Kovinic in the second round.
- Zhang Shuai finally gets her major win: The Chinese qualifier came into Melbourne 0-14 in Grand Slam main draw matches and she got the toughest draw of any qualifier in No.2 seed Simona Halep. Yet somehow, Zhang made it look easy. She raced to a 4-0 lead and never looked back, winning 6-4, 6-3, to pull off the biggest upset of the first round. Read more about Zhang's near-retirement, and what this win means to her here.
- Halep suffers a mental drain: The Romanian just couldn't get the pieces together in time for Melbourne. After injury and illness derailed her training, it always felt like Halep was playing catch-up as the season began. She was noticeably more upbeat after today's loss than she has been here in Melbourne the last two years, where she lost in the quarterfinals. Halep admitted it was hard to come into the tournament confident.
"I can say that I am a little bit down mentally because I was very sick at home," she said. "Then I came here with Achilles again. So it's tough to be positive, 100%, and try everything. But I did. I think I did everything I could today. It was all I could do today. So I am okay, but disappointed, of course."
"When I played here two years before, and last year I lost in the quarters because I was blocked, I couldn't manage the situation, the emotions. But today was different. Today I think I was okay. Was only about the game. I played not my best tennis. I played too short. I played too soft. She could do everything with the ball.
"It's okay. I don't want to make this match like dramatic. It happened. You know, everyone can lose. Everyone can win. I know that. I have just to take it like it is and go ahead."
- Venus Williams to drop out of the Top 10: With her first round exit, Venus will drop out of the Top 10 after the Australian Open. She is currently entered into the Taiwan Open, which starts on February 6th. As she did at the 2015 French Open, Venus declined to appear for a press conference after her loss. Under ITF rules she could be fined up to $20,000.
- Misaki Doi's Slam breakthrough will have to wait: Over the last year, Doi has become one of my favorite players to watch. Her forehand has turned into a real weapon as she's added a more aggressive stance to her game. Against No.7 seed Angelique Kerber, Doi had match point and at 6-5 in the second set tie-break only to miss a makeable forehand return; Kerber escaped with a 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 6-3 win. Doi lost despite hitting 59 winners -- 42 off the forehand side -- compared to Kerber's 35 winners.
It's a tough pill to swallow for Doi, who has now won the first set off Kerber, Bencic, Svitolina, and Ivanovic in her last four Slams. She lost all four matches.
- Garbiñe Muguruza makes a confident start: The Spaniard showed no signs of the foot injury that's derailed her season so far, beating Anett Kontaveit 6-0, 6-4. She also caught a break when Kirsten Flipkens pulled off the win over the very dangerous Mirjana Lucic Baroni. Muguruza will play the Belgian in the next round.
- Naomi Osaka's culture clash: Osaka followed up her strong qualifying run to win her first match at a major, in her Grand Slam debut no less, beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2. She was greeted in the secondary interview room by a standing room only crowd of Japanese and English-speaking reporters and jokingly pleaded to the moderator to only have questions asked in English.
"I'm trying to study Japanese but I get really nervous when I hear it," the Osaka-born Osaka said. "It's really fast; sometimes it sounds like they're rapping, so then I'm just like, 'Oh my god; I didn't hear the first part of the question.' Then I look like an idiot, and I don't want to look like an idiot." Watching the 18-year-old try to bridge her two cultural backgrounds will be very interesting.
- Opportunity knocks: With Halep and Venus's losses, the seeds remaining in the bottom quarter: Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, Ana Ivanovic, Ekaterina Makarova, and Sabine Lisicki. Also floating is Alizé Cornet.
- Quote of the Day: Azarenka was asked about the last time she remembers being double-bageled herself. She remembered it vividly.
"I was 11 years old. I was trying to get into Nationals for under 18, but obviously I was too young and I didn't get in. Somebody retired and they gave me the spot. I was in school writing my essay. My dad came in and said, Hey, you got to go. I said, Where, dad?
"He said, 'You got a spot. You can go and play.' I was like, 'Really?' He was like, 'Yeah.' So I got excited, went to the court, got beat, I cried myself to sleep that day, and that was horrible experience.
"But, you know, I came back to practice the next day, and I don't think that ever happened to me again. Hard work pays off."
By The Numbers:
2: Garbiñe Muguruza, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber each with a chance to move as high as No.2 in the WTA Rankings after the Australian Open:
-Muguruza needs SF or better
-Radwanska needs Final or better
-Kerber would need to win title
-If none of the above, then Halep will stay at No.2
4: Four Chinese women have advanced to the second round of the Australian Open - X.Han, Q.Wang, S.Zhang and S.Zheng - the most Chinese women through to the second round of a Slam since 2006 Wimbledon (Li Na, QF; Peng Shuai, 3r; Zheng Jie, 3r; Sun Tiantian, 2r).
12: Through the completion of the first round, 12 of the 32 women's seeds have been eliminated from the tournament, including two of the Top 8 seeds - No.2 Simona Halep and No.8 Venus Williams. Since the Grand Slams adapted the 32-seed draw at 2001 Wimbledon, the 12 seeds is the most to lose in an opening round.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.