It was one of the toughest opening-round draws at the Australian Open on paper, but three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka made it look easy.
In just 68 minutes inside Rod Laver Arena, the No.3 seed made a statement behind a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a quarterfinalist in Melbourne in three of the past four years.
"I feel like for me the most recent memory I have of playing her was in the Osaka final [to win the title in 2019], so it's always really hard to play someone that good in the first round," Osaka said after the match.
"For me, I feel like it might have also helped in a way because I calmed my nerves because I felt like I couldn't afford to be that nervous. I kind of expected that because I always want to do well in Slams. I never want to lose in the first round."
Broken just once in the opening-round victory overall, Osaka dropped 13 points in eight service games and struck 18 winners.
The World No.3 is now 2-1 overall against the Russian in her career, with the loss coming back in 2017. Up next, she'll face former World No.4 Caroline Garcia from France, who overcame Slovenia's Polona Hercog, 7-6(6), 6-3.
Osaka and Italian Camila Giorgi were the first two women's victors on Monday in Melbourne, with the latter beating Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3, 6-3.
But also advancing in the first two hours of main draw action was Canada's Rebecca Marino, a 6-0, 7-6(9) victor over Aussie wildcard Kimberly Birrell.
More from Down Under: Serena, Venus breeze into second round
Marino, a former World No.38 at age 20 in 2011, was away from the tour from 2013-18 as she overcome injuries and depression, before making her return to tennis at age 27.
REBECCA MARINO. 👏— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) February 8, 2021
It’s the feel-good story we just can’t get enough of. The Vancouverite overcomes Kimberly Birrell 6-0, 7-6(9) to reach the second round of the #AusOpen
Brilliant play. Proud of you @beccamarino90! pic.twitter.com/B9YaHa1oYY
Now 30 and ranked World No.316, Marino successfully qualified for the Australian Open by winning three matches in Dubai last month for her first Grand Slam appearance in eight years, and needed eight match points to advance.
Swiatek soars past Rus in Slam return
If there was any scar tissue from an earlier-than-expected exit from last week's Gippsland Trophy at Melbourne Park at the hands of Ekaterina Alexandrova, Iga Swiatek certainly didn't show it on 1573 Arena: the No.15 seed dispatched Arantxa Rus, 6-1, 6-3, in an hour and 16 minutes to advance to the second round.
The reigning French Open champion never faced a break point in the opening set, and came back from 2-0 down in the second set to ease to victory, winning six of the last seven games in the end.
In addition, the win marked revenge of sorts for the World No.17, as she lost to the left-hander in the opening round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome last year.
"Basically I felt much better than during my first tournament here, much more confident," Swiatek said after the match.
"Even though I had some doubts because I played against Arantxa Rus in Rome, and that wasn't a good match for me, I think I started from a brand-new position. I just wanted to dominate on court, and I did pretty well, so I'm happy.
"I just played good tennis. Maybe I made some decisions that weren't perfect, like some of the dropshots, but it's also the first match of the tournament. I hope I'm going to be playing better and better next round."
Swiatek is playing her third Aussie Open in 2021 and reached the fourth round of last year's event, nine months before her maiden major triumph in Paris.
Monday's victory extends the Polish teenager's Grand Slam-winning streak to eight, in which she hasn't lost a set. In fact, Swiatek hasn't dropped more than four games in those 16 sets.
She'll face Giorgi for a spot in the third round — a rematch of a meeting that took place 24 months ago in the same round. That one was won by the Italian, 6-2, 6-0, with Swiatek a qualifier ranked World No.177.
"I remember it was a really tough match for me because that was the first match that I played with a player who plays so fast," Swiatek assessed.
"I think I've made progress since our last match. I'm going to be prepared for everything because she can play really great tennis, really fast. This surface, it's going to help her.
"We're going to see what's going to happen. I'm going to be tactically prepared. I'm going to be ready for anything, and just going to play my tennis."
🤜Good day in the office. 2nd round it is.— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) February 8, 2021
🤜To był dobry dzień w pracy. Jest 2. runda. pic.twitter.com/XEFfbGC1dj
In better success for an unseeded lefty against a major champion, American Bernarda Pera rolled past No.23 seed Angelique Kerber, 6-0, 6-4.
After losing the first nine games, the three-time major champ and 2016 winner Down Under fought hard in the second set and nearly drew level at 4-4, but ultimately was unable to come all the way back against the Croatian-born World No.66.
"She played really well, especially in the first set. I think I never saw her playing like that," Kerber said in defeat. "I started to feel the ball and the rhythm starting in the second set. I made few mistakes especially at the end... but she played well.
"She served good in these break points that I hit... I maybe could go more for it, but in this situation, she really served first serves and hit then the second ball really well."
The victory is Pera's sixth career win against a Top 30 player, and her best in terms of ranking since beating then-World No.22 Garcia on clay in Lausanne in 2019.