With defending champion Naomi Osaka among the early winners on Day 1 of the Australian Open, another former champion soon joined her in Round 2. Two-time winner Victoria Azarenka, seeded No.24, kicked off her 14th campaign in Melbourne with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Hungary's Panna Udvardy.
The 65-minute victory was Azarenka's first at Melbourne Park since 2016, as she was beaten in the first round in each of her last two appearances in 2019 and 2021. She missed the 2017, 2018 and 2020 editions of the tournament, but improved her career record in opening rounds at Grand Slams to a sparkling 46-10.
An early adjustment: One of those 10 opening-round defeats for Azarenka came at last year's Australian Open, where she fell at the first hurdle to American Jessica Pegula. Against an opponent who was ranked outside the world's Top 350 this time last year, the former World No.1 needed some time to adjust.
Though Azarenka broke early in the first set, Udvardy went toe-to-toe with her over the first nine games. Playing a Top 50 player for the first time, Udvardy forced Azarenka to play some of her best tennis to get and stay ahead. Azarenka saved two break points serving at 3-2, and later won the last eight points of the set.
After dropping serve in the first game of the second set, she rolled to win the next six games.
Krejcikova keeps good vibes rolling
Barbora Krejcikova closed her week in Sydney with a pair of dramatic three-setters, but there was no such saga for the No.4 seed to start her Australian Open campaign. She needed just over an hour to secure her spot in the second round at the expense of Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 6-0.
The pair traded breaks in the first two games of the match, but it was all Krejcikova from then on: she won 11 of the next 12 games to beat Petkovic at a major for the second time in the last three, having also beaten the German at Wimbledon last summer.
"I think I played really well today," Krejcikova said. "I'm really happy with the way I handled the match. I think [Sydney] was a really good preparation. ... After the [final], I just tried to do everything to recover and we were really lucky that the tournament organizers in Sydney chartered a flight for the finalists.
"I think the courts are very similar, it's just more the conditions. In Sydney, I played all of my matches indoors, which is different. Coming here and playing outdoors right now with the sun and the wind, it can get tricky. I tried to prepare and tried to do everything, and I think I did a good job."
Doubling up: Krejcikova hit 28 winners to 14 unforced errors in 67 minutes and broke Petkovic six times. Broken in her first service game of the match, she never again lost serve. She saved both break points she faced in serving out the first set and lost just two points on serve in three games in the second.
28 winners, 14 errors 😲— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2022
No.4 seed @BKrejcikova makes a statement with her 6-2, 6-0 victory over Andrea Petkovic.#AusOpen • #AO2022@wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis pic.twitter.com/bvwQuFdGl6
Breaking new ground: To reach the third round of the Australian Open for the first time, Krejcikova will next face Chinese wildcard Wang Xiyu. The 2018 junior US Open champion scored her first Grand Slam main-draw win by beating Viktoria Kuzmova, 7-5, 6-3.
Wang Qiang upsets Gauff in first win since July
Two years ago at the Australian Open, Wang Qiang upset Serena Williams en route to her best Grand Slam result. Now outside the Top 100, the former World No.12 showed she still has what it takes to silence a big name in a 6-4, 6-2 upset of No.18 seed Coco Gauff.
Wang lost to Gauff twice in 2021, in back-to-back weeks, and Wang played just one more event — the Tokyo Olympics — after losing to Gauff in the second round of the French Open. Head-to-head history mattered little in the 73-minute victory, though, as Wang played the steadier match of the two players.
Tale of the tape: Breaking Gauff four times, Wang took advantage of 38 unforced errors from the American's racquet.
She sealed the decisive break in the first set at 2-2 and denied Gauff an immediate chance to break back in the next game. Wang, in fact, won six straight games from 5-4 in the first set, but ultimately needed two chances to serve out the match.
Gauff saved three match points on serve in the seventh game, and was later denied two chances to creep closer before Wang served out victory.
"I think today I came into the match and the first couple of games, even though they were close, I was making more errors than I was used to ... I knew that she's capable of playing great tennis. For me, ranking is just a number," Gauff said in defeat.
"Obviously paper-wise, I'm supposed to win the match, but I think that even when I was ranked lower before I always think ranking is just a number. ... I wasn't really thinking about me being ranked higher or anything like that. I was just trying to win the match. But today she played well. I think she did a good job of keeping the ball deep in the court. I wasn't able to really be comfortable today."
Picture perfect from 🇨🇳 Wang Qiang 🎯#AusOpen • #AO2022@wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis pic.twitter.com/wz3NYOhIq7— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2022
A statement victory: Wang's win is her first against a Top 20 player since that career-defining win against Williams two years ago at this very venue. She had been winless in 2022 so far, losing to Aussies Destanee Aiava and Storm Sanders in Melbourne and Adelaide.
She advances to a second-round meeting against Belgium's Alison van Uytvanck, bidding to win back-to-back matches for just the second time since February of 2020.
Jabeur forced to withdraw with injury
The tournament lost its first Top 10 seed at the midday mark on Day 1, as No.9 seed Ons Jabeur withdrew ahead of a scheduled first-round match with Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz due to a lingering back injury.
The same injury forced the Tunisian to retire against Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals of the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday.
Jabeur — who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open two years ago in an historic first for an Arab woman — later shared a heartfelt message with fans on social media, saying that her decision was made with the long-term in mind.
🙏❤️ pic.twitter.com/VAKE0B72a4— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) January 17, 2022
Jabeur was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Irina Bara of Romania, and Parrizas Diaz made good use of the change in opposition to secure her first Grand Slam main-draw win, 6-3, 6-1.