MELBOURNE, Australia - No.3 seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua gave home fans something to cheer about in the final doubles first-round match with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of the dangerous Elise Mertens and Demi Schuurs.
The Belgian-Dutch duo have been doubles partners since their junior days, and in 2017 they resumed a partnership that had seen them net two ITF Pro Circuit titles in 2014-15 to begin lifting WTA trophies. Indeed, Mertens and Schuurs are coming off their second WTA title together in Hobart - part of an eight-match winning streak for the 24-year-old, who also won Brisbane with Kiki Bertens for her first Premier crown.
Among Schuurs' conquests during her unbeaten start to 2018 were Barty and Dellacqua, defeated 6-7(2), 6-3, [10-8] in the Brisbane semifinals. But the Australian pair began in sharper fashion today, breaking Mertens in the second game and leaping out to a 3-0 lead with the aid of some pinpoint Dellacqua lobs.
Unwilling to see her streak end, Schuurs began to find the gaps and charge the net with aplomb, breaking Barty to level the scoreline - but the same aggressive, high-risk strategy went awry in the eighth game, which found the Dutchwoman errant at net, wild off the ground and broken for the first time.
The 2013 runners-up remained solid and collected, even when they fell behind a break in the second set after the Dellacqua first serve went AWOL in the fourth game. From 1-4 down, Barty in particular tightened up her game, landing a number of crucial volleys, a brilliant angled forehand to break for 6-5 and an ace on her second match point to seal victory.
Overall, it was a dominant day for doubles seeds, who went 9-0 over the course of the afternoon. Six teams won their second-round ties in straight sets, including No.1 seeds Latisha Chan and Andrea Sestini Hlavackova defeated Oksana Kalashnikova 6-0, 7-5; No.2 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina made their way past Dalila Jakupovic and Irina Khromacheva 6-2, 6-3; and the No.4 seeds, defending champion Lucie Safarova in partnership this year with Barbora Strycova, upended Raluca Olaru and Olga Savchuk 6-2, 6-2.
Also into the third round without the loss of a set are No.6 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan, who took out Ekaterina Alexandrova and Anastasija Sevastova 6-4, 6-4 and No.12 seeds Raquel Atawo and Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who dominated Eri Hozumi and Miyu Kato 6-1, 6-1.
The rebirth of former No.1s and two-time Grand Slam champions Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai continued apace: teaming up again after over two years apart, the Taiwanese-Chinese duo have picked up where they left off, beating Lesley Kerkhove and Lidziya Marozava 6-4, 6-1.
Meanwhile, No.14 seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Katarina Srebotnik squeaked past Michaella Krajicek and Alla Kudryavtseva 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(2) - setting up a third-round battle between the Chan sisters. It's the second time Latisha and Hao-Ching will have squared off in a major in the past year: alongside Martina Hingis, Latisha ended the US Open hopes of her younger sister and Zhang Shuai in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-2.