No.9 seed Elena Rybakina needed just 55 minutes to storm past Emma Raducanu 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of the Sydney Tennis Classic and continue her strong start to 2022.
Rybakina reached her eighth career final in Adelaide last week, falling to Ashleigh Barty in the title match. The Kazakh is no stranger to racing out of the blocks at the start of the year - in her breakthrough Top 20 season of 2020, she reached four finals in her first five tournaments, including a second career title in Hobart.
US Open champion Raducanu, who tested positive for Covid-19 last month and withdrew from the Melbourne Summer Set last week due to needing more preparation time, was still competing in just her eighth WTA-level main draw. The result is the 19-year-old Briton's first loss to a Top 20 player in three meetings, and the heaviest of her professional career by scoreline.
Match management: Rybakina's sheer weight of shot enabled her to dominate every aspect of the match for its entire duration. The gulf between the players was most evident on serve: Rybakina won 77% of her first serve points and 67% behind her second delivery. Raducanu's respective numbers were 54% and 13%.
Raducanu, at a career-high of No.18 this week, started positively with a pair of one-two punches. But three double faults followed in the same game, and she never regained any momentum after that opening loss of serve. She would commit six double faults in total, and did not reach game point again until the fourth game of the second set - converted as Rybakina sent a backhand long.
World No.13 Rybakina played within herself for the most part, repeatedly jamming Raducanu with heavy, deep returns and getting her opponent on the back foot straight away. The 22-year-old's finest passage of play was the start of the second set: rattling off the first seven points, and 12 of the first 15, tightened her grip on the match and shut off any route for a Raducanu comeback.
In Rybakina's words: "My serve is a weapon, so I'm always working on it and trying to find some variety," said Rybakina in the on-court interview. "For sure, it's my game to play aggressive and my serve is helping a lot."
What's next for Rybakina: A second-round clash against former World No.4 Caroline Garcia. The Frenchwoman enjoyed her first Top 25 victory in over a year after defeating Jessica Pegula 6-4, 7-6(3), swarming the net and taking returns early to great effect.
Highlights: Garcia d. Pegula
Garcia's last win over a Top 25 player was her defeat of Elise Mertens in the third round of Roland Garros 2020. Pegula, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open last year, is still looking for her first win of 2022 after also losing her opener at Melbourne Summer Set 2 last week to Irina-Camelia Begu.