Returning to the site of her maiden Grand Slam win Tuesday, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty avoided an opening-round exit at the hands of Bernarda Pera on the final day of first-round action.
Barty, playing in Paris for the first time since she hoisted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 2019, overcame a spirited challenge from world No. 70 Bernarda Pera, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, to extend her personal winning streak at the tournament to eight.
The Aussie didn't play last year's tournament, staged in October, after it was rescheduled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Barty reflected on the unconventional nature of her title "defense" after the match.
"A little bit different but the world is different, isn't it? The world we live in now is vastly different to that of 2019 when we were here," Barty said in her post-match press conference.
"But certainly it was really enjoyable to be back out on Philippe Chatrier. I think with fans, even though at times it was only a sprinkling, it was still really nice to be able to share that with them and kind of enjoy that, being back out on that beautiful court."
💥Barty Battles 💥— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 1, 2021
Top seed @ashbarty fends off a push from Pera to clinch a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory in her first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier since winning the #RolandGarros title in 2019. pic.twitter.com/95sQgVSoa6
Barty retired with an arm injury in the quarterfinals against Coco Gauff in her last tournament appearance - a fortnight ago - at the Internazional BNL d'Italia in Rome, and the World No.1 overcame other physical concerns in exactly two hours to cool off a red-hot Pera, who struck eight aces and 36 winners, double Barty's own total.
After the match, Barty revealed to reporters that she had an "acute episode" with her left hip prior to the start of the tournament, and is looking ahead only day-by-day. She not only arrived on court with her left leg wrapped, but also received a medical timeout between the second and third sets of her victory.
"It's going to be a little bit tough this week," Barty said. "I think over the weekend we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today, needed some assistance to try and release it off as best I could. But I think we were able to fight through, able to give ourself a chance to play again the next round.
"Today was all about going out there and giving myself a chance and letting myself play with as much freedom as possible and enjoy every minute. We were able to do that today.
"I think every match that I play in, every different experience, whether it's I guess an opponent or a physical challenge, I feel like you learn to overcome it and you learn to accept it. That was a massive part of today was accepting the fact that, yes, I may not be absolutely 100% but I'm certainly good enough to go out there and fight and do the best I can and give myself a chance to win matches."
Barty saved two break points at 1-1 to hold serve in a crucial third game early in the decider, and hardly looked back from there: from 2-2, she won the last four games as Pera's stinging groundstrokes faded late, advancing to a second-round match against either wild card Chloe Paquet of France or Poland's Magda Linette.
"I'm doing the best that I can. That's all I can ask for myself, and I 100% trust my team. They know my body exceptionally well, and we know how we're gonna manage through this week. We know what we're doing. We're confident in that we can get my body to a point where I'm able to compete," Barty said.
"I think if you've got the chance, you're in with a chance, you never know. You never know what can happen, and that's about going out there and really having the right attitude and kind of just going out there and playing as best you can on that given day."
Additionally, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the tournament prior to her second-round match, due to injury.
The 11th-seeded Czech, who reached the semifinals in Paris just last year, stated on social media that she fell and injured her ankle following her first-round victory on Sunday.
"Unfortunately, after an MRI and much discussion with my team, I have made the tough decision that it would be unwise to play on it," Kvitova said in her social media statement. "It's incredibly bad luck, but I will stay strong and do my best to recover in time for the grass-court season."
Kvitova's scheduled second-round opponent, returning Russian Elena Vesnina, moves into the third round via walkover.
Also on Tuesday, No.32 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round. 2002 finalist Venus Williams was contesting her 24th appearance at Roland Garros, but she was unable to get past the hard-hitting Russian.
Alexandrova, who made her first-ever clay-court quarterfinal earlier this season in Stuttgart, needed 56 minutes to oust former World No.1 Williams. The Russian converted six of her seven break points to set up a second-round clash with Barbora Krejcikova.
Krejcikova, who won her first career WTA singles title last week in Strasbourg, overcame her fellow Czech Kristyna Pliskova, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in over two hours on Tuesday.