CHARLESTON, SC, USA – No.9 seed Ashleigh Barty was delighted to make short work of up-and-coming American Sofia Kenin as she recorded a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the first round of the Volvo Car Open in Charleston.
After a tight start to the match that saw both players hold serve, WTA World No.18 Barty cut clear with some powerful play, and even when she threatened a hiccup in the second set, she held her ground to secure comfortable progress.
“I think there was always going to be a bit of rust wearing off. It's the first time I've been on a clay court since the French Open last year,” she admitted in her on-court interview. “There was very minimal preparation for me, so I'm very happy with how I played.”
Both players quickly got accustomed to the surface by holding serve, though eventually the power and accuracy of the 21-year-old would tell.
In the fifth game of the set, Kenin’s previously reliable forehand began to misfire, and the ascendancy in the match was passed to the Australian when the 19-year-old fired long.
From that moment, there was no looking back as the higher-ranked player looked largely at home on the clay.
— WTA (@WTA) April 3, 2018
“A lot of it is the movement, getting used to sliding and having that unsure footing. I felt good today,” she said. “I feel like my game can suit clay. I have to play a little bit more and trust myself.”
There was no evidence of her lacking confidence with the surface as she was quick to turn the screw, holding her own serve before manufacturing a set point in her opponent’s next game, the highlight of which was the opening point, which landed right on the baseline for a winner.
Although the WTA World No.85 saw off the immediate danger, she succeeded only in prolonging the set by a few minutes as Barty enjoyed a comfortable hold.
Throughout, Barty showcased some excellent defensive work, allowing her opponent to hit only six clean winners, yet it was her forehand that took centre stage throughout the second set. A blistering first game saw her break to love.
The damage might have been worse for Kenin, who got on the board at 2-1, yet there was a sense that she was struggling to keep hold in the match as her opponent raised her level but allowed several presentable chances to be squandered.It was in the fourth game of the second set, however, that Barty dealt the decisive blows. Kenin forced three break points at different times, yet on each occasion they were answered by smart play from the Top 20 player, who saw the first two off with intelligent serves.
— WTA (@WTA) April 3, 2018
Several minutes later, having recovered from 40-15 down, Barty again broke her opponent’s resistance to move 4-1 clear.Her confidence was evident as she moved to within one game of victory with the aid of a stunning lob, and while Kenin was able to hold, Barty took the match by serving out after just an hour and eight minutes.
Given that she lost out in the first round of qualifying in 2017, it marks the beginning of the latest chapter in her incredible rise over the last 12 months.
“We did a lot of hard work last year to set a foundation, physically, and trying to develop a solid game,” she said. “I feel like I've not got many flaws now, I'm always trying to get better. I'd love it to be perfect, but it's not always going to be the way.”
Next up for her is a match against either Laurent Davis or Tatjana Maria.