Her last two matches Rod Laver Arena ended in defeat, but Garbiñe Muguruza got off to a winning start on the Australian Open's main court in 2022 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over France's Clara Burel.
The No.3 seed was pushed over the course of 88 minutes by the 20-year-old World No.77, but the difference between the two players was most stark on serve. Burel hit a dozen double faults and landed just 41% of her first serves, affording Muguruza ample opportunities on return. Muguruza broke five times and won seven of eight games from 3-3 in the first set to take a commanding lead at 6-3, 4-1.
Muguruza ultimately needed five match points to seal victory. Burel saved three in a marathon service hold for 5-3, and she broke Muguruza to stay alive on the strength of back-to-back forehand winners at deuce. A 0-40 deficit serving for 5-5 proved too much to overcome and Muguruza improved to 10-0 in the first round Down Under.
Words from the winner: After the match, Muguruza said that she needed to overcome both her opponent and herself to remain perfect in first-round matches at the Australian Open.
"I didn't know really who I was facing. We've never played before. Very tricky," she said. "You're always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign. I've always gone through the first round. [I'm] very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves."
Another French player up next: Muguruza will next face a French player she's much more familiar with in the form of Alizé Cornet. To open her 60th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance, Cornet eased to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Bulgarian qualifier Viktoriya Tomova, and she and Muguruza will play for a fifth time. The pair have split four prior meetings.
Cornet says she's hoping for a full scouting report from her friend and compatriot.
"I'm good friends with her, with Clara," Cornet said. "We were [Billie Jean King] Cup mates and we get along very well, so I'm just going to ask her how she felt on the court and if she saw something particular.
"Garbiñe, we know each other pretty well. We've played each other a few times now, and the last time was on grass last year, and I won in a [third-set] tiebreaker, so it was a really tight match. She's an amazing champion. She's Top 5 in the world, so I'll have to play my best tennis to beat her, that's for sure."
Swiatek surges into second round; Rybakina saves match point in all-Kazakh opener
Playing her first match on Rod Laver Arena, British qualifier Harriet Dart started brightly against No.7 seed Iga Swiatek by winning three of the first four games.
From 3-1 down, though, Swiatek rolled. She won the last 11 games in a 6-3, 6-0 victory to win her opening match Down Under for the fourth year in a row.
Job done ✅— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2022
🇵🇱 @iga_swiatek reels off 11 straight games to seal a first round victory over Harriet Dart 6-3 6-0. The No.7 seed faces Sweden's Rebecca Peterson next. #AusOpen • #AO2022
🎥: @wwos · @espn · @Eurosport · @wowowtennis pic.twitter.com/AnkzO8Y1PL
Tale of the tape: Swiatek made nine of her 17 unforced errors for the match in the first four games, and finished with 21 winners. After the slow start, she also rounded into form on serve. In her last six service games, Swiatek lost just six points. Three of those came in the last game, as she served out the match from 15-40 down.
Swedish No.1 next for Swiatek: With a spot in the third round at stake, Swiatek will face Sweden's Rebecca Peterson, who was a 6-2, 6-3 winner against wildcard Daria Saville (neé Gavrilova). The two will play at a major for the second time in the span of a year, with Siwatek winning 6-1, 6-1 in the same round at Roland Garros last summer.
While Swiatek rolled, the same couldn't be said for No.12 seed Elena Rybakina. The Adelaide finalist was given all she could handle by compatriot Zarina Diyas in their first career meeting and saved a match point to advance to the second round.
After losing a 4-1 lead in the first set and failing to convert set point, Rybakina staved off defeat serving at 30-40 with Diyas ahead, 7-6(3), 6-5, and turned it around to a 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-1 win.
Stosur soldiers on in final ride, advances to face Pavlyuchenkova
At 37, there's not much in professional tennis that Samantha Stosur hasn't faced. But heading into her first-round match against American Robin Anderson, and possibly the final singles match of her career, the former Grand Slam champion was searching for answers, literally.
"I YouTube'd a little bit, but there wasn't a whole lot on there," Stosur said of the 28-year-old American, the World No.169 and winner of the U.S. reciprocal wildcard into the Australian Open. "Stubbsy [coach Rennae Stubbs] spoke to a few different people. We knew a couple of little things. Not a lot of information."
What she achieved? A 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3 come-from-behind victory to kick off her singles swan song.
Read more: Stosur prepares for Australian Open swan song: 'I know there will be tears'
AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE 🇦🇺— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2022
An emotional @bambamsam30 extends her final #AusOpen singles campaign with a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3 win over Robin Anderson.#AO2022 pic.twitter.com/1LWaTtK3w1
Streak snapped: The 2-hour, 30-minute victory also snapped a winless streak dating back a decade. Stosur had lost 29 straight singles matches at Grand Slams when losing first set, dating back to second-round win over Elena Vesnina at the 2010 US Open.
After trailing 4-1 early on, Stosur found her game to force a first-set tiebreak, and though she fell behind a set anyway, rode the support of a partisan atmosphere in Kia Arena to get back into the match.
"[The] crowd was amazing," Stosur said. "It was a really nice court to play on. It was great atmosphere. Obviously the crowd was right behind me, which was really nice and special to have. It was obviously a long match. It was a tough match. Right from the first couple of games I thought, 'No, I can do this today.' [I] hung in there and [I'm] very happy to get the win.
A perfect 10: Stosur advances to face No.10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who eased to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Hungary's Anna Bondar in her 2022 debut after testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia. Stosur leads the pair's head-to-head, 5-4, but they have not played in nearly four years. They first played in 2008, when Pavlyuchenkova was just 16, and five of their prior matches were played on clay.
Now ranked World No.487 in singles, Stosur recognizes much has changed since all that.
"We've played many times," Stosur said. "It's gone both ways. We've had some really close matches, played some good tennis against each other. Played doubles together. We know each other pretty well. Obviously it's going to be a tough one, no doubt. She's still one of the best players in the world, had a great year last year. It's the second round. I can go out there and have some fun again."