MELBOURNE, Australia -- 2016 Olympic champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina kicked off the women's doubles draw on Wednesday, downing fan favorites Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in a spirited encounter, by the score of 6-4, 6-4.
The Russian No.2 seeds are gunning to complete the career Grand Slam in women's doubles this month, after championships at the 2013 French Open, the 2014 US Open, and 2017 Wimbledon. They used their doubles prowess to clear the first hurdle, hitting 22 winners to the Canadian/American tandem's 12, and clinching five of the seven break opportunities they received.
The two teams exchanged breaks in the first set en route to a deadlock at 4-4. But the Russians claimed a pivotal love break in the next game to give themselves a chance to serve out the set, which they easily did. Makarova and Vesnina edged out the win in the opening frame behind winning 66% of their first service points.
The second set was equally competitive, as Bouchard and Stephens used well-placed groundstrokes to stage a stirring comeback before falling just short. After breaking the Stephens serve early for a 2-1 lead, Makarova struggled, having to save three break points before holding for 3-1.
Bouchard then dropped her serve giving the Russians a double-break lead, but a backhand crosscourt winner by the Canadian on break point immediately grabbed one break back, and Makarova shockingly dropped her next service game as well, to knot the second set at 4-4.
In the following game, Bouchard had a point to go up 5-4, but an excellent volley by Makarova saved it, and two points later, a Stephens volley went long, giving the Russian duo a decisive lead. Vesnina closed out the next game with an ace, propelling them one match further in their quest for all of the major titles.
Makarova and Vesnina therefore advance to the second round, where they will meet either the American pairing of Lauren Davis and Alison Riske or Croatia's Petra Martic and Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova.
Elsewhere, the No.4-seeded team of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova also got off to a winning start in Melbourne on Wednesday, as the Czechs eased past the British team of Naomi Broady and Anna Smith, 6-2, 6-1. Safarova and Strycova raced to a 51-minute victory behind five aces, and went 6-for-6 on break points in the match.
The No.8 seeds, Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei and Peng Shuai of China, claimed a win in the first round as well, defeating Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu and Argentina's Maria Irigoyen, 6-3, 7-5. Hsieh and Peng were the top doubles team in the world earlier in the decade, having won Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, but are playing together for the first time since the spring of 2016.
The No.9 seeds weren't as lucky, as Slovenia's Andreja Klepac and Spain's María José Martínez Sánchez fell to Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland and Nina Stojanovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-3.
But No.14 seeds Chan Hao-ching of Chinese Taipei and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia were victorious in their first-round encounter, beating Laura Robson of Great Britain and CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States, 7-6(3), 6-4.
Additionally, No.12 seeds Raquel Atawo of the United States and Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany got an early evening victory over Australian wild cards Astra Sharma and Belinda Woolcock, 7-6(2), 6-3.