SYDNEY, Australia - Home favorite and 2018 runner-up Ashleigh Barty made a winning return to home soil on Tuesday, defeating Jelena Ostapenko in the first round of the Sydney International, 6-3, 6-3.
The one hour, 16-minute victory for the Aussie No.1, in which she broke serve five times and won 85 percent of the points played behind her first serve, sets up a match against World No.1 Simona Halep for a spot in the last eight.
On the other side of the net, a shaky serve proved to be the former French Open champion's undoing over the course of the match, as she double-faulted nine times and won less than 50 percent of the points played in her service games.
"I'd like my serve to be a little bit better, but it's a really solid start here," Barty said after the match. "I haven't played on this court in a year now, and it feels like a long time. It's certainly a beautiful court out here and I'm loving every second.
"The goal is to keep improving every day. I want to become a complete player, the best player that I can be, the best Ash Barty I can be."
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She twice handed a break over to Barty via a double fault in the opener, and despite potent returns which got her back on serve each of the first two times she surrendered hers, a marathon eighth game - and a third break - proved key to Barty winning the first set.
In all, Ostapenko's fourth service game saw six deuces and five break points before Barty moved ahead once more, and the Aussie held to love to seal a tight opener.
Though the Latvian hit more winners than Barty in the first set (10 to 8), she nearly doubled the Aussie's total of unforced errors (18 to 10) over 38 minutes played.
Barty broke early in the second set as well, moving ahead 2-1 in the third game, and hardly proved threatened on her own serve the rest of the way.
The World No.15 saved the lone break point she faced in the set in the eighth game, and with the chance to draw level at 4-4 gone by, Ostapenko surrendered serve for the fifth time overall to end the match.
"I think in the little bit tricky conditions -- you know, it's a little bit swirly in that court, not that it's easy to see from the outside, but I think particularly how well I returned and got into those return games," Barty added.
"A few areas of my serve I'd like to clean up, but it was a pretty straightforward match, which is what I'm most pleased with."
In the round of 16, Barty will seek her first-ever win against World No.1 Halep, after dropping both matches the pair played last year in straight sets.
I feel like I have played enough matches now, I'm ready, feel pretty good on the court. There's certainly no better challenge than coming up against Simona right before a slam," the Aussie said.
"It's kind of the perfect opportunity for me to go out there and play freely and try a few different things and get ready as best that I can to try and win that match."
The pair played twice in as many weeks last summer, with Halep winning in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Canada and in the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
"They were actually back-to-back weeks in Montreal and Cincinnati, I never played her before that, and obviously they were tough matches," Barty added.
"I was in both of those matches and let my opportunities slip, so I know that if I do the right things, I will certainly get my opportunities and then it comes down to execution and trying to do the right things.
"She's the ultimate competitor. She's the best in the world, and there's no one better to come up against to test your game."