No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty's quest for a first Australian Open title got off to a near-flawless start with a 6-0, 6-1 rout of qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in only 54 minutes.
Exactly two years ago, Barty had been given a scare by the Ukrainian at the same stage of her home major, eventually pulling through 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. But the rematch was more akin to her 2021 opener, in which she routed Danka Kovinic 6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes.
The Wimbledon champion raced through the first 11 games, facing game points in only one of them. Those were in the third game, and Barty saved them with a forehand winner and an ace. There was no further let-up until the penultimate game of the match - Barty was unable to take two points for the double bagel, and Tsurenko managed to get on the board for the first time.
It was too little, too late to stave off the loss, though - Barty ultimately needed five match points, but a service winner sealed a place in the second round of a major for the 15th consecutive time.
Statement made 💯— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2022
🇦🇺 @ashbarty drops just one game on her way to a 6-0 6-1 victory against Lesia Tsurenko to reach the #AusOpen second round.
🎥: @wwos • @espn • @Eurosport • @wowowtennis #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/OgTOXyun1c
By the numbers: Barty struck 14 winners, including five aces, to 17 unforced errors, and maintained a 58% first serve percentage - identical to Tsurenko. But her dominance lay in her point construction rather than how the rallies ended, per se.
Barty was in control of almost every exchange, dragging Tsurenko around the court in all directions with biting slices and heavy forehands. The World No.119, formerly a US Open quarterfinalist in 2018, found herself continually trying to find an aggressive rhythm from disadvantageous court positions. Consequently, Tsurenko racked up 21 unforced errors and found only four winners.
The Australian, who won her third tournament on home soil at the Adelaide 500 just over a week ago, extended her winning streak to five matches with the win. Barty is also on a streak of 42 consecutive service holds stretching back to her Adelaide opener against Coco Gauff, and she has gone unbroken in each of the four matches since.
What's next for Barty: A second-round clash with another qualifier, Lucia Bronzetti. The Italian, competing in her first Grand Slam main draw, came from a set down to defeat Varvara Gracheva of Russia 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Bronzetti, 23, scored a rare feat in 2021 when she reached the quarterfinals in each of her first three WTA main draws, in Lausanne, Palermo and Portoroz. The Rimini native is ranked at a career high of No.142 this week. While her idol growing up was Serena Williams, an inspiration closer to home is her mentor Karin Knapp - the former World No.33 who is married to Bronzetti's coach Francesco Piccari.
Barty on her service streak: "I'm not one for stats at the best of times," she said afterwards. "But I think obviously the last five or six matches I felt like I found a really good rhythm on my service games. I've been able to serve my way out of some tricky spots and play some 30-30 points, while not falling too far behind in service games. [It's] been a massive part of my week in Adelaide and again tonight.
"I think I did a pretty good job of winning first and second points. And if I didn't, I was able to call that back and not dig myself into a hole where I was fighting off two or three breakpoints in a row. I think being able to manage service games has been really good, but also not trying to overemphasise the fact that if I do get behind in games it's a bad thing."
Keys continues winning streak with upset of Kenin
Madison Keys was another recent titlist continuing her run of hot form. The former World No.7 lifted her first trophy since 2019 at the Adelaide 250 last week, and won her sixth straight match by upsetting No.11 seed Sofia Kenin 7-6(2), 7-5 in 1 hour and 31 minutes.
Keys slammed 31 winners, including 15 aces, to win her 43rd WTA-level match against a fellow American out of 63 to date. The clean quality of Keys' play meant that Kenin needed all of her famed grit to keep the scoreline close, and the 2020 champion did so admirably.
Kenin, 23, protected her own serve well, landing 73% of her first deliveries and winning 65% of those points. A spectacular lob also paved the way to her sole break of the Keys serve, which came as the World No.51 served for the match.
But Keys remained calm despite Kenin nipping at her heels. The 26-year-old seized control of the first-set tiebreak with three forehand winners and wrapped it up with an ace; a superb redirected backhand winner down the line garnered the first service break of the match for 5-4 in the second set.
Having been stymied on the first attempt to serve out the win, Keys made no mistake the second time. A trio of aces brought her to triple match point, and she converted the third with a service winner.
The result extends Keys' head-to-head lead to 3-1. Kenin won their first career meeting 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of Rome 2019, but Keys has taken each of the next three, all on hard courts, in straight sets. The 2017 US Open runner-up will next face Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, who defeated Greet Minnen 7-5, 6-4 in her first Grand Slam main draw.
Second round unlocked 🔓— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2022
🇺🇸 @Madison_Keys knocks out the 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, 7-6(2) 7-5 to move on at Melbourne Park.
🎥: @wwos • @espn • @Eurosport • @wowowtennis#AO2022 • #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/B1qRoCb4KX
Ostapenko, Pegula battle from a set down
No.26 seed Jelena Ostapenko and No.21 seed Jessica Pegula both delivered resilient performances to survive determined opponents in their openers. Ostapenko recovered after losing a first set in which she had held five set points to beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-7(7), 6-3, 6-1 in 2 hours and 15 minutes, while Pegula triumphed 4-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 over Anhelina Kalinina in 2 hours and 52 minutes - the longest match of Day 1.
The first set of Ostapenko's clash alone contained more plot twists than most matches. Schmiedlova led 3-0, dropped the next five games to trail 5-3 and came back to force a tiebreak. Therein, the Slovak overturned a 6-2 deficit, converting her first set point by slamming away a forehand winner.
Schmiedlova held four points to go up an early break in the third game of the second set, but after Ostapenko survived that crucial tussle the former Roland Garros champion began to find a more consistent rhythm. She dominated the second half of the match with searing returns and improved serving, ultimately tallying 44 winners to 58 unforced errors.
Pegula, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne last year, came into this year's tournament having lost in the first round of both Melbourne Summer Set 2 and Sydney. The American was up against a tough challenge in Kalinina, the runner-up in Budapest last year and a Top 50 debutante this week.
There was little to choose between the players for most of the match, but Kalinina initially proved more tenacious in the bigger moments. The Ukrainian came from 4-2 down to take the first set, saving six break-back points as she served it out, and then did not face a break point throughout the second set.
But the second-set tiebreak saw Pegula take control with her forehand as Kalinina's groundstrokes faltered. In the decider, Kalinina twice levelled the score from a break down, but Pegula served out the win at the second time of asking, converting her first match point with a fifth ace.
Ostapenko will next face Adelaide 250 finalist Alison Riske, who dropped just seven points on serve in a 6-2, 6-2 rout of Donna Vekic. Pegula will take on fellow American Bernarda Pera, who defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-5, 6-3.
Badosa repeats victory over Tomljanovic
No.8 seed Paula Badosa rounded off Day 1's action with her second defeat of Ajla Tomljanovic in the space of six days. Last week, the Spaniard won 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of Sydney en route to her third career title. In their Melbourne reprise, she dropped three fewer games to advance 6-4, 6-0 in 1 hour and 22 minutes.
A mighty first set comprised 62 of those minutes. There were seven breaks of serve and three gruelling multi-deuce games. Both players brought a similar strategy to the court - to grind the other down with sheer weight and depth of shot in extended physical rallies. Throughout the match, Badosa proved to be the better at it with superior shot selection, defence and willingness to inject pace at the right times.
The Indian Wells champion was also more reliable in the bigger moments. After a trio of double faults paved the way to an opening break of serve, Badosa immediately broke back and kept her nose in front for the rest of the set. She won four of the game's five deuce games, including a mini-marathon to break Tomljanovic for the set, sealed as the Australian sent consecutive forehands into the net.
After the ninth game of the first set, both players took simultaneous medical time-outs and resumed play with their right thighs strapped. It was Badosa who went from strength to strength in the second set, conjuring passing shots and fizzing returns to take her winner tally to 27. The last of those, a backhand crosscourt, sealed her first match point and her sixth consecutive win.
Badosa will next face qualifier Martina Trevisan in a battle of former Roland Garros quarterfinalists. The Italian defeated lucky loser Nao Hibino 6-2, 6-3 to seal her first Australian Open main draw victory at the third attempt.