Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina delivered stellar performances in the first round of the Sydney Tennis Classic, with No.7 seed Jabeur blitzing wildcard Astra Sharma 6-1, 6-3 in 58 minutes and Kasatkina upsetting No.8 seed Sofia Kenin in 63 minutes.
Jabeur was playing her first match of the season after testing positive for Covid-19 last month. But the Tunisian shook off some minor forehand rust to dominate an opponent who had defeated her in last April's Charleston 250 final.
Sharma had triumphed 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 in that match to win her maiden WTA title, but Jabeur took a 6-2, 6-4 revenge in the second round of Roland Garros and showed off the full range of her repertoire to take a 2-1 head-to-head lead in Sydney.
Match management: From breathtaking backhands down the line to perfectly disguised drop shots, the World No.10 was in full flow. After saving two break points in the first game, Jabeur dropped just nine more points on serve and did not face another break point.
No.101-ranked Sharma found few answers in the first set, and though improved serving helped the Australian make the second more competitive, a pair of net cords went against her at 3-3 to open the door for Jabeur. Sharma faded away immediately, sending five forehands long and committing two double faults during the last 12 points of the match.
"I had a really tough end of the year, so I'm happy that I'm getting back on my feet," Jabeur said afterward.
What's next for Jabeur: An opportunity to overturn a 0-3 head-to-head deficit against Petra Kvitova. Jabeur has yet to win a set against the Czech in three meetings, but after Kvitova needed to save two match points to survive Arantxa Rus in the first round, she will have to fancy her chances this time.
Kasatkina claims first win over Kenin in three meetings
Fresh off last week's Melbourne Summer Set 2 semifinals, Kasatkina faced an opponent she had never beaten to open Sydney. The Russian had lost to Kenin in three sets at both Miami 2018 and Dubai 2019, but turned the tables emphatically here.
A knife-edge first set saw both players make repeated inroads into their opponent's service games - only four games in the opener did not feature a break point. But Kasatkina was able to come up with her most solid tennis when she needed to, fending off all seven break points she faced over the course of the match.
Highlights: Kasatkina d. Kenin
At 3-3, Kasatkina struck, breaking Kenin with a backhand return winner. At 5-4, the World No.26 saved three break points en route to serving out the set, and then motored through a one-sided second act in which she did not permit Kenin so much as a game point. Kasatkina will next face either Elise Mertens or lucky loser Fiona Ferro.