DOHA, Qatar - Playing both a tournament and an opponent for the first time in her career, No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty adjusted with her trademark quickness to run out a 6-3, 6-2 winner over qualifier Laura Siegemund in one hour and 13 minutes to make the third round of the Qatar Total Open.
The Doha debutante turned in a smart, controlled performance, tallying 19 winners and 16 unforced errors, to overcome Siegemund, who was unable to strike the balance between bold attacks and hitting herself out of points. "It took some time to adjust just to the conditions and having not played my opponent before," assessed Barty afterwards. "Happy overall to be able to switch on when I really needed to. Disappointing to have a few lapses in concentration but also a credit to my opponent, she came up with some really good stuff in runs to be able to break me a few times."
The opening stages of the match saw both players feeling each other's games out. Both are renowned for the breadth of their repertoires and ability to create winning shots from defensive positions - so through the first five games, it was little surprise to find both focusing on the basics of holding serve while probing the other, Siegemund mixing up her attack with serve-and-volley plays and dropshots but Barty rising to the challenge of the latter with fine anticipation.
But while Barty was playing within herself, secure on serve with a foundation of an 85% rate of first serve points won, Siegemund was more prone to carelessness. In the sixth game, the World No.68 overplayed a pair of attacking groundstrokes and underplayed a dropshot, and Barty was swift to punish the errors, breaking as a fine return dropped on the baseline for a clean winner. The Roland Garros and WTA Finals champion took control thereafter, her elegant slice-based point construction coming to the fore as she served out the set - and Siegemund overdoing it once more down a second set point, charging forwards for a surprise attack only to net the volley.
The 31-year-old has rarely been one to let points, games or matches go easily, and her kitchen-sink offence was on full display as she dragged Barty into a sequence of six breaks out of eight games in the second set. As Siegemund fired a backhand return winner to capture the Barty serve for the first time to level the score at 1-1, the German seemed to have got her teeth into the match.
But fundamentally, Siegemund remained too inconsistent, with her 14 winners outweighed by 24 unforced errors. Another slew of the latter, finishing with a double fault, put her down 1-2 - and Barty, calmly plugging away through a series of tighter games, resumed her grip of the scoreboard.
The Australian Open semifinalist captured the double break as Siegemund once again overplayed a forehand putaway - and although she would drop serve once more, in the main the Barty delivery would be a reliable source of free points for her, with the 23-year-old racking up four aces.
By contrast, though Siegemund came up with several highlight reel points as she clung on to the match, the former World No.27's own serve was increasingly letting her down: consecutive double faults to fall behind 2-5 wasted two exquisitely angled backhand volleys earlier in the game, and two netted backhands in a row would end the match.
Up next for Barty will be either a rematch of her Australian Open third round against No.14 seed Elena Rybakina, who has since reached back-to-back finals in St. Petersburg and Dubai. "Exceptional, nothing short of exceptional," declared Barty of Rybakina's recent rise. "It's amazing to see what she's done over the last six tournaments. And I think the way that she's burst onto the scene this year - she's obviously been doing the right things for an extended period - but just this year it's clicked for her and the stars have aligned and she's played some really good stuff... It will be fantastic to challenge myself against someone who is extremely confident and feeling the ball well."