MELBOURNE, Australia - With 96 matches originally scheduled for Day 3 of the Australian Open, play extended deep into the evening across the grounds, with the late-night vibe highlighted by former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova delivering a classic battling performance to upset No.15 seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in one of the best matches of the event so far.
The Russian, who reached the quarterfinals here in 2005, 2009 and 2013, struck 37 winners against the Roland Garros finalist. Vondrousova, who is playing only her second tournament back after a six-month hiatus due to wrist surgery, but who made a strong start to her comeback by reaching the Adelaide quarterfinals last week, got off to a slow start: 16 unforced errors in the opening set alone betrayed her rust, and the 20-year-old did not hold serve until the third game of the second set.
Welcome back Svetlana 🇷🇺— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2020
After two years away, @SvetlanaK27 upsets 15th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-2 4-6 6-4 to advance to the #AusOpen second round for the 14th time.#AO2020 pic.twitter.com/hrzcaJIqIs
Vondrousova would improve as the match went on, playing her role in a high-quality third set, and showed commendable fighting qualities to level the match at a set all and twice get the decider back on serve after falling behind a break. But Kuznetsova's all-court form was irresistible, and she concluded the match in fine, athletic style, chasing down consecutive dropshots to break the Czech and wrap up the win after one hour and 52 minutes.
Elsewhere, former World No.5 Jelena Ostapenko posted a high-quality first-round win despite personal tragedy. The Latvian had withdrawn from Auckland two weeks ago due to her father's death - but, back on court for the first major of the year, played one of the most focused matches of her career to dismiss the in-form qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-1, 6-4 in one hour and 14 minutes.
In her match today, @JelenaOstapenk8 overtook Ash Barty to lead the women's aces total with 11.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2020
We still raising money for every ace. You can help #Aces4BushfireRelief 👉 https://t.co/bffi4DbAVO#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/a6qP1uh4c1
Ostapenko was particularly impressive on serve, slamming down 11 aces to only three double faults and saving all five break points she faced - four of which came in the opening game of the match alone - and closing out the match with consecutive love holds as she overpowered the Russian with 27 winners to 22 unforced errors to set up a mouthwatering second-round matchup against erstwhile junior rival, No.6 seed Belinda Bencic.
No.20 seed Karolina Muchova triumphed in another high-quality three-setter, surviving a late fightback from Kirsten Flipkens to win 6-3, 2-6, 7-6. As was to be expected in a clash between two of the players with the softest hands on tour, the match was a feast of finesse as both sought to take the net away from the other at every opportunity. For most of the deciding set, Muchova was in the driver's seat - but the Czech would let a 4-0 lead slip, missing two match points on the Flipkens serve at 5-2 and another one at 5-4. The Belgian would also cut Muchova's 4-0 super-tiebreak lead to 8-7 before the Wimbledon quarterfinalist finally crawled over the line on her fourth match point after Flipkens netted a half-volley.
No.26 seed Danielle Collins, who has captured attention in 2020 with a series of one-sided scorelines against Top 20 players in making the Brisbane quarterfinals and Adelaide semifinals, had a somewhat tougher time against Vitalia Diatchenko in a brutally hard-hitting affair. Collins, who found the Russian World No.89's blistering double-handed groundstrokes harder to tee off on than those of other recent opponents, battled for two hours and two minutes before coming through 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, with Diatchenko left to rue a netted dropshot with the whole court open that would have seen her hold for 5-4.
Meanwhile, Laura Siegemund posted her first win over CoCo Vandeweghe at the sixth attempt, winning 6-1, 6-4 to set up a clash with No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova. Strangely, given the pair's surface preferences, all three of Vandeweghe's Tour-level victories had come on clay - and the German has finally got the better of the 2017 semifinalist in their first Tour-level hard-court meeting.
In a match circled by many connoisseurs as soon as the qualifiers were placed, former World No.11 Alizé Cornet overcame qualifier Monica Niculescu 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 in a contest of idiosyncratic shotmaking and sudden momentum shifts. Niculescu, with her trademark forehand slice carving up the court, would take the first set despite almost squandering a 5-1 lead - but the Frenchwoman, undaunted, took control thereafter as the former World No.28 faded. Yulia Putintseva was another victor in a battle of courtcraft, defeating Hsieh Su-Wei 6-1, 6-3 to set up a second-round Adelaide rematch against Collins.
There were contrasting fortunes for the two lowest-ranked players in the draw, both still in the early stages of very different comebacks. Former World No.35 Catherine Bellis, playing the fourth tournament of her return from four wrist surgeries and now ranked World No.600, posted her first Grand Slam win since her career-best third-round run at Roland Garros 2017 with a 52-minute 6-0, 6-2 dismissal of Tatjana Maria. However, wildcard Arina Rodionova came back from a set and 3-5 down to deny Shenzhen quarterfinalist Kateryna Bondarenko the first victory at a major since the Ukrainian's second maternity leave, moving past the World No.535 in three sets, 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-0.