Defending champion Sofia Kenin came back from early break down to hold off a spirited effort by Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis, winning 7-5, 6-4 in the opening round of the year’s first major.
"Some nerves coming in," said Kenin after returning to Rod Laver Arena, the court where she won her first Grand Slam title. "I'm sure everyone saw that. But, yeah, it's obviously nice to get the win. I obviously love the court, have great memories. It was a little bit emotional."
Kenin, the No. 4 seed, slammed 23 winners to Inglis’s 10 en route to collecting the 86-minute victory. Kenin is hoping to become the first woman to defend the Australian Open singles title since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.
In her first-ever WTA match against a current Top 20 player, World No.133 Inglis forced the issue in each set and broke the world's fourth-ranked player twice, but was ultimately undone by 25 unforced errors.
"[Inglis] played really well," Kenin said. "She's a tricky opponent, tricky player. Yeah, it was quite hard on myself today."
It’s nice to be finally back in Melbourne and playing in front of the fans 🇦🇺😁 pic.twitter.com/xP1kzrr9J5— Sofia Kenin (@SofiaKenin) February 2, 2021
Inglis led Kenin by an early 3-1 break, but Kenin pulled back on serve in the next game. Key net play by Kenin helped her tough out the opening frame, as she forced an error with a dropshot to break for 6-5, then fired a volley winner to convert her first set point.
Serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, Kenin fended off a break point and missed her first two match points before booking safe passage into Round 2.
Next up for Kenin is surging Kaia Kanepi, who made the Gippsland Trophy final this past weekend.
"I'm obviously going to try to just prepare and do everything I can to win," said Kenin, who dropped her previous meeting with Kanepi, at 2018 Rome. "She's obviously a tough player and she's playing big. We'll see how it's going to go."
Former World No.15 Kanepi, a six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, eliminated former Top 15 player Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 6-1 to continue her solid run Down Under. Kanepi has won five of her six matches during the past nine days.
Svitolina, Gauff set second-round showdown with straight-set wins
Get set for a second-round encounter between No.5 seed Elina Svitolina and American teenager Coco Gauff after each won in straight sets Tuesday.
On Rod Laver Arena, fifth-ranked Svitolina notched a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory against World No.50 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in a tight two-hour battle, which included an evenly matched and entertaining second set.
The pair battled in a three-set final in Monterrey last season, which Svitolina eked out to level their head-to-head at 1-1. This time around, little sets the duo apart. There were differences of only one winner (28 for Bouzkova to Svitolina’s 27) and zero unforced errors (33 apiece) between them.
A break at love for 3-1 was all Svitolina needed to ease to the one-set lead, although she required four set points and one break point save to close out the final game of the opener.
The second set was replete with long games and entertaining points. Svitolina saved a set point at 5-4 before pulling Bouzkova into a tiebreak. More engaging rallies followed in the breaker until the Czech netted a forehand to end the clash.
Gauff had an easier time in beating Jil Teichmann, 6-3, 6-2, and collecting her second win in two weeks against her Swiss opponent.
Things were less difficult for the 16-year-old than they were when the pair squared off in last week’s Gippsland Trophy, where Gauff needed a final-set tiebreak to win.
"Last week we had a difficult match," Gauff said in her post-match press conference. "Today we're both familiar with each other's games, obviously, so I just knew what I had to do and I just came out there, decided to play my tennis and tried to mix in things that she doesn't like to play."
Gauff statistics were impressive. She won 87 percent of points on her first serve, slammed eight aces and converted all three of her break points in the 56-minute win.
"This is only my second Australian Open, so I mean, I'm just going out there and having fun," Gauff said. "Today I put way less pressure on myself than I did last week and you can kind of see how the match played that I kind of played a little bit more free than I was last week. I learned a lot from the summer series here, and I'm happy to take what I learned last week into this week."
Bencic, Brady among others who book second-round spots
No.11 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland fought past American Lauren Davis 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 to land a slot in the second round of the year's first major.
Bencic, whose best showing at the tournament was a trip to the round of 16 in 2016, was "happy and relieved" to make it past Davis after nearly two-and-a-half hours of play.
"I still have a heart on court and I try to use it," the former World No.4 said after her third win in three meetings against Davis. "I definitely tried to fight with what I have, which wasn't much today. At least I was able to pull it off."
Next up for Bencic will be two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Former World No.2 Kuznetsova sailed past Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-2 in a clash between two of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the field.
No.22 seed Jennifer Brady also won, easing past Aliona Bolsova of Spain 6-1, 6-3 in a shade under an hour of play. Brady won an outstanding 82 percent of her service points and never faced a break point.
"I think the conditions suited me pretty well," Brady said after her victory. "I was able to start off pretty strong, was serving well and using the court, the balls, the speed of the court, the bounce, all of it to my advantage."
And No.28 seed Donna Vekic survived a tough opening match. She outlasted Wang Yafan of China 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 2 hours, 38 minutes.