Simona Halep kicked off her 2022 Australian Open campaign with a win. The former World No.1 gritted past Magdalena Frech of Poland 6-4, 6-3 in their first-round battle.
In their only previous meeting, Halep had defeated Frech with the loss of only two games on the clay courts of Prague in 2020. The No.102-ranked Frech posted a much better score line this time around, but the 14th-seeded Halep took the win after an hour and a half.
Simona says: "The first match is always tough," Halep said in her post-match press conference. "I was very nervous. But I'm really happy with the way I played, with the way I've been on court. Going through to the second round makes me happy.
"I feel like in the big picture, [it] was a good game for the first match. It's always tough. I'm always nervous. But also she didn't play that bad. She was playing well. She was running very well. She was moving well. I think was a good match and I take only the positives.
"I don't believe I am at the highest level, my highest level, like in the past. But I feel good. I feel confident that the game is there, the movement is there. The mental is pretty strong."
Fast facts: Halep claimed her 104th Grand Slam match-win by taking out Frech. The two-time Grand Slam champion has now improved to 6-0 on the season thus far. She won her 23rd career WTA singles title at Melbourne Summer Set 1 two weeks ago.
Halep is seeking her first Australian Open title, which would go with her 2018 Roland Garros and 2019 Wimbledon crowns. Halep, who fell to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 final in Melbourne, has reached the quarterfinals or better in five of the past eight Australian Opens.
This was Frech's first direct entry into a Grand Slam main draw, having successfully gone through Grand Slam qualies three times previously. Despite pressing Halep in both sets, the 24-year-old Frech fell to 0-6 lifetime against Top 20 opposition.
Frech converted both of the break points she held in the match, but Halep broke the Pole's serve four times, winning 58 percent of receiving points to take the tussle.
Match moments: Frech was able to hang with Halep in rallies throughout the encounter, and after Halep reeled off three games in a row to lead 5-2, Frech cracked a return winner to break Halep when the Romanian served for the set for the first time.
Halep remained unrattled and finished off the set at the second time of asking. She wrapped up the one-set lead with a backhand winner down the line on her first set point.
An uncharacteristically high six unforced errors by Halep in the first three games of the second set let Frech grasp a 3-1 lead. But Halep tightened up her play in the back half of the set and won the final five games to book her spot in the second round.
Cirstea bests Kvitova again at Australian Open
Another Romanian claimed a big win Tuesday. For the second straight year, Sorana Cirstea took out Petra Kvitova at Australian Open. Cirstea notched a 6-2, 6-2 first-round victory over Kvitova, the 2019 runner-up.
Cirstea, just outside this year's seedings at World No.38, had a 2-hour, three-set win over Kvitova in the second round at Melbourne Park last year. She had an even easier go of it this time around, needing only 71 minutes to upset the No.20 seed from the Czech Republic.
The Romanian was never broken, and Cirstea closed the gap in their career head-to-head matches, trailing 5-4.
Cirstea's 38th career Top 20 win adds to her recent resurgence. The 31-year-old has risen nearly 50 spots in the rankings since the end of 2020, and she won her first title in 13 years in Istanbul last season.
Cirstea was clutch on break points in the first set, converting two of three while Kvitova went 0-for-2. In the second set, Cirstea was outstanding returning the typically fearsome Kvitova serve, cracking huge replies as she won nearly half of the Czech's service points.
The two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova boldly saved four match points, two on her serve at 5-1, and two more on Cirstea's serve at 5-2. But Cirstea at last closed out the match on her fifth chance as a Kvitova forehand flew wide.
Cirstea will now face Kristina Kucova of Slovakia in the second round. Kucova defeated Misaki Doi of Japan 6-3, 7-5 on Tuesday.
Inglis stuns Fernandez
Aussie hope Maddison Inglis also captured an upset win as she shocked 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez of Canada, 6-4, 6-2. Inglis took 1 hour and 23 minutes to stun the No.23 seed and take her first main-draw victory at a Grand Slam event.
A 24-year-old wildcard ranked No.133, Inglis had never beaten a Top 50 player prior to Tuesday. But that all changed on home soil with the sweeping victory over 19-year-old Fernandez, who fell to 0-3 in Australian Open main-draw matches.
"This is my first [Grand Slam] main-draw win, I had thought of that moment for a long time," Inglis said. "It was just pure happiness. I was so happy. I saw the ball go out and I looked at my box. It was an amazing moment. I'm really so happy I could have it here in Melbourne with all my friends and family there. It was incredible. Really lucky."
The final three games of the match each contained multiple deuces as Fernandez tried to battle back from an extreme deficit, but Inglis held on, converting her third match point to claim her career-best win. Inglis saved all three of the break points she faced.
Inglis will next face 20-year-old American qualifier Hailey Baptiste for a spot in the third round. The World No.165 Baptiste overcame former Top 5 player Caroline Garcia of France 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 in just over two hours.
Kontaveit eases past Siniakova
No.6 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia eased past World No.48 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-3 for a spot in the Australian Open second round.
Kontaveit, whose best result at a Grand Slam came when she reached the 2020 quarterfinals in Melbourne, needed 1 hour and 21 minutes to stop Siniakova, the WTA Doubles World No.1 player.
"I think the first-round matches at Grand Slams I'm always a little bit nervous," Kontaveit said. "But I felt like as the match progressed, I was feeling more comfortable on the court and just finding my game a little bit more. I think I could have served a little better today, but I'm very happy with the win today."
Seeded in the Top 10 at a Grand Slam event for the first time in her career, Kontaveit continues to carry over the form that saw her finish 2021 as the hard-court match-win leader. Kontaveit notched 39 victories on that surface last year.
Kontaveit won four titles last season, and two of those championship runs came with victories over Siniakova en route, in Cleveland and Moscow. On John Cain Arena on Tuesday, Kontaveit improved to 5-1 overall against Siniakova.
Siniakova, in fact, was up by early breaks in both sets, moving ahead 2-1 in each instance. But both times, Kontaveit struck back in the very next game to level the frame, and she powered through the remainders of the sets from there to hold off the Czech.
Kontaveit ended the match winning 78 percent of points behind her first serve, while Siniakova won only 49 percent of her first-service points on the day. Kontaveit had to erase two break points in the last game of the affair, but ultimately wrapped up the victory with her 26th winner.
Mertens ousts Zvonareva
In a first-round battle between former Australian Open semifinalists, No.19 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium defeated Vera Zvonareva of Russia 6-4, 7-5 in just under two hours.
Mertens, who reached the final four in Melbourne in 2018, claimed her second win in two meetings with the former World No.2 Zvonareva, who was an Australian Open semifinalist back in 2009 and 2011.
Mertens had three more winners and five fewer unforced errors than Zvonareva as she eked out two close sets. Mertens has reached the third round or better in all four of her prior Australian Open main-draw showings.