For the second time during the COVID-19 pandemic, a WTA tournament is taking place concurrently with the second week of a Grand Slam. Last September, the Tennis Championship Istanbul took place during the US Open, with Patricia Maria Tig capturing her maiden title over Eugenie Bouchard - and this week, the Phillip Island Trophy continues the action in the grounds of Melbourne Park.
Saturday saw the 250-level event kick off in dramatic fashion, with upsets and epics plentiful. The two highest seeds in action on the first day were both knocked out, with Varvara Gracheva needing only 54 minutes to oust No.9 Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-2 and Misaki Doi ending some personal droughts to knock out No.10 Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-3.
Gracheva's all-court game garnered the 20-year-old Russian 12 winners to 10 unforced errors and meant that Stephens is yet to pick up a victory this season. Indeed, the former US Open champion has now lost her last 10 matches against Top 100 opposition, an unfortunate streak stretching back to Beijing 2019.
However, Doi's performance could serve as inspiration for getting back on track. The Japanese World No.87 was on a five-match losing streak at WTA main draw level and had dropped her last eight matches against Top 50 players, dating back to Osaka 2019 - but saved six out of seven break points while taking four out of 12 on the Garcia serve en route to a straight-sets win.
Elsewhere, Sara Sorribes Tormo staked another claim to being the WTA's queen of marathons. So far in 2021, five WTA Tour main draw matches have clocked in at over three hours long - and the Spaniard has now featured in three of them.
Following her three-hour, 23-minute defeat of Bernarda Pera in Abu Dhabi and three-hour, 16-minute loss to Caty McNally at the Gippsland Trophy, Sorribes Tormo battled back from 3-5 down in the final set to overcome Liudmila Samsonova 6-7(6), 6-1, 7-6(4) after three hours and eight minutes, saving two match points serving down 4-5 in the decider.
Also coming back from the brink was Anna Blinkova, who notched up her first win of the season 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 over Andrea Petkovic after saving two match points on her own serve at 4-5 in the second set. The Russian World No.63 overcame 13 double faults but landed her best aggressive shots when she needed to, ultimately tallying 49 winners to 57 unforced errors.
Elsewhere, former World No.10 Daria Kasatkina dispatched Katie Boulter for the second time in five days, reprising her first-round Australian Open win 6-4, 6-2. A clash of local wildcards also saw Olivia Gadecki score her first WTA-level win 6-4, 6-4 over Destanee Aiava - and the 18-year-old's reward in the second round will be a date with No.1 seed Sofia Kenin.