MELBOURNE, Australia - No.12 seed Liudmila Samsonova recovered from a nightmare start to keep her dreams of reaching the Australian Open main draw alive with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 defeat of American teenager Hailey Baptiste in one hour and 35 minutes as the qualifying competition got back on track by completing the first round and starting the second.
The Russian, who impressed in Brisbane last week in notching up the first two Top 50 wins of her career over Kristina Mladenovic and Sloane Stephens, showed little sign of that form at the start of her second round today, falling behind 0-5 in a mere 16 minutes and committing 14 unforced errors in the first set. Baptiste, the 18-year-old who scored a Top 20 win over Madison Keys on her WTA debut in Washington last July, kept a shellshocked Samsonova at bay with 12 winners of her own, repeatedly redirecting the ball into the open court.
However, once Samsonova found her range with her own substantial power, the match swiftly turned. The 21-year-old slammed 17 winners over the remainder of the match to dictate proceedings as the youngster's game cracked under pressure, with Baptiste offering up six double faults and 27 unforced errors in the last two sets. Having been initially unable to get to grips with the Baptiste serve, Samsonova spent much of the final passage of play happily teeing off on it. In the final round, Samsonova will face Chinese No.24 seed Wang Xiyu. In a battle of 18-year-olds and the two most recent US Open girls' champions, 2018 winner Wang overpowered Colombia's reigning champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano 6-1, 6-4 with 21 winners and four aces.
Yet another new 18-year-old face making her way into the last round is the 2018 Australian Open junior semifinalist Elisabetta Cocciaretto. The Italian was ranked World No.707 this time last year, but soared into the Top 200 after ending 2019 by winning back-to-back ITF W60 events in Asuncion and Colina - and today, Cocciaretto needed just 61 minutes to upset No.14 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-3, 6-1 to post her 12th win in her last 13 matches.
The 18-year-old cohort also made noise in the last tranche of held-over first-round matches. Japan's Yuki Naito, who rocketed from World No.762 to World No.185 in 2019 thanks to a formidable 59-19 win-loss record, marked her Grand Slam debut by upsetting former World No.45 Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-3, 7-5, striking 41 winners to 26 winners in the process.
Meanwhile, 2018 Moscow River Cup champion Olga Danilovic continued to work her way back up the rankings by winning a dramatic all-Serbian derby over Jovana Jovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. Jovic, the 2014 Monterrey runner-up (under her maiden name, Jaksic) tested Danilovic to the limit with her never-say die attitude and often-spectacular defence, forcing a super-tiebreak from 3-5 down in the deciding set and therein coming back from 3-7 to level at 8-8. But the World No.185 held firm in the face of the fightback, and took the match with a brilliant half-volley pickup. Having battled with vocal intensity for two hours and 23 minutes, the two competitors had a lengthy embrace at net before Danilovic sank into her chair, overwhelmed, where she was congratulated by coach Tomasz Wiktorowski.
Elsewhere, first-round action saw No.4 seed Katarina Zavatska and No.10 seed Catherine McNally both overcome mid-match bagels to progress. Ukraine's Zavatska withstood a barrage of power from Ma Shuyue before the Chinese World No.240 began to lose control of it, sending the 19-year-old through 6-3, 0-6, 6-2; while 18-year-old Washington semifinalist McNally squeezed past American compatriot Asia Muhammad, fresh off defeating Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in the Auckland doubles final, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2.
One of the most tantalizing clashes in the draw is next for World No.116 McNally in the form of 16-year-old Daria Lopatetska. The Ukrainian had opened her professional career with an astonishing 45-9 win-loss record between April 2018 and May 2019, only to suffer a torn knee meniscus that necessitated surgery - paid for by compatriot Elina Svitolina - and kept her sidelined for eight months. Lopatetska's belated Grand Slam debut was a triumphant one as the World No.332 routed Conny Perrin 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 13 minutes.
Roland Garros girls' champion Leylah Fernandez marked her Grand Slam debut with an impressive upset, too: the 17-year-old Canadian stunned No.7 seed and Bucharest finalist Patricia Maria Tig 6-2, 6-3, and will now face World No.168 Mayo Hibi in the second round after the Japanese player defeated Poland's Magdalena Frech 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Ironically, Frech and Tig had been the finalists at the only ITF World Tour warm-up on Australian soil last week in Bendigo, with Frech taking the title thanks to a walkover from Tig.
Russian seeds Anna Kalinskaya and Natalia Vikhlyantseva both navigated past difficult opening opponents today as well. No.5 Kalinskaya, playing her first event of 2020, emerged on top of a rollercoaster affair against former World No.5 Sara Errani 6-2, 1-6, 6-2, while No.6 Vikhlyantseva ended the hopes of 17-year-old Marta Kostyuk - who won the girls' title here as a 14-year-old in 2017, and reached the third round of the main draw a year later - 7-5, 6-2.
Meanwhile, second-round action saw No.1 seed Ana Bogdan live up to her status with a 6-2, 6-3 defeat of wildcard Belinda Woolcock, while Auckland quarterfinalist and former World No.5 Eugenie Bouchard's strong start to the year continued with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over No.21 seed Maddison Inglis. 2017 Wimbledon girls' finalist Ann Li, who qualified for her maiden WTA main draw in Auckland, needed exactly one hour to dismiss Yanina Wickmayer 6-3, 6-2 - while a clash of late-blooming Italians saw 32-year-old Giulia Gatto-Monticone, who made her Grand Slam main draw debut at Roland Garros last year, defeat 28-year-old Martina Di Giuseppe 6-3, 6-3.
Rounding off proceedings with a late-evening finish was home hope Destanee Aiava, who displayed some of the form and fortitude that had taken her to the Top 150 as a 17-year-old in 2017. Still only 19 years old but now ranked World No.266, Aiava overcame a couple of comebacks from the battling No.16 seed Varvara Flink to move into the final round 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-4 in two hours and 10 minutes. Aiava had led 6-1, 5-3 before Flink roared back to level the match - sealing the tiebreak with a brilliant backhand pass that clipped the outside of the line - and in the decider, Aiava found her 5-2 lead cut to 5-4 before finally prevailing on her fifth match point.