A little bit of early trouble was no problem for Maria Sakkari at Melbourne Park on Monday.
The No.6 seed hit 38 winners to largely roll in a 6-1, 6-4 opening win over China's Yuan Yue to kick off her eighth Australian Open campaign in 94 minutes. She came from 3-1 down in the second set.
"My level was a lot better than I expected. I have to be totally honest," Sakkari said after the match.
"I was feeling very good with my game because I did a good preseason, played four matches, actually four very good matches [at United Cup]. I was expecting I was going to play well, but I thought the nerves will hold me back a little bit.
"The first game was a little bit, how can I say it, tricky, but after that, felt like especially the first set was very good."
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Sakkari, who's reached the fourth round at the Australian Open twice, is now 22-6 in her career in Grand Slam first-round matches.
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Tale of the tape: Sakkari struck 15 winners to Yuan's three in a first set that lasted 36 minutes, but the Chinese player put a stronger fight in the second set to extend her Australian Open main-draw debut.
She hit five winners in the first two games, including an ace, to lead 2-0. She also had a point to lead 4-1 before Sakkari broke back, getting the set back on serve. Sakkari won five of the last six games to wrap up the match.
Up next: Sakkari will next face another first-time Australian Open competitor in Round 2, qualifier Diana Shnaider. The 18-year-old left-hander battled for a 7-6(6), 7-5 win over Kristina Kucova for her first-ever Grand Slam main-draw victory.
A former World No.2 in juniors, Shnaider is a three-time junior Grand Slam doubles champion.
Azarenka downs resurgent Kenin in clash of former champs
Only two former champions were present in the women's draw at the start of the event, and just one was guaranteed to reach Round 2 after No.24 seed Victoria Azarenka and a resurgent Sofia Kenin drew each other in the opening round.
Former World No.1 Azarenka came out on top. She trailed 3-0 in the first set, but eventually wrapped up a 6-4, 7-6(3) win in 2 hours and 4 minutes.
Both players came into the match having performed well already this year. Azarenka reached the quarterfinals of the Adelaide International 1, while Kenin reached the semifinals of the Hobart International.
After Azarenka won five of the last six games to take the opener, neither woman was broken in the second set. Azarenka saved a set point on her serve trailing 5-6, and then won five straight points from 2-0 down in the tiebreak.
"I definitely had quite a few nerves," Azarenka said. "I felt like my game wasn't at the best today, but I was able to find a way to win, which is I think important to do, especially for me, I feel that mentally I stayed really strong and I kept looking for solutions."
Kvitova edges van Uytvanck
2019 Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova also won her first-round match on Monday. The No.15 seed from the Czech Republic held off Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium 7-6(3), 6-2 in 1 hour and 32 minutes.
There were no breaks of serve by either player in the first set, but Kvitova eked out the tiebreak and rolled to victory from there, never facing a single break point all day.
“I played [van Uytvanck] in the Olympics and I lost to her, so I knew what to expect for sure,” Kvitova said in her post-match press conference.
“She's playing a little bit different game style, and a lot of variants in her game. So I'm happy that I kept myself in the first set and won a tiebreak. I think from that point I was a little bit more relaxed and started to play a little bit better.”
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova will meet World No.39 Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine in the second round.
Keys battles past Blinkova
Two-time semifinalist Madison Keys, who is projected to meet Azarenka in the third round and Sakkari in the fourth, was the last winner of Day 1, wrapping up a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 defeat of Anna Blinkova as midnight approached in Melbourne.
Keys, who reached the last four of the Australian Open in 2015 and 2022, was one of the form players coming into this year's event after going unbeaten to help the U.S. win the inaugural United Cup. But she found herself embroiled in an unpredictable but entertaining affair against the impressive and much-improved Blinkova for 1 hour and 59 minutes.
Both players delivered passages of brilliant play interspersed with more error-strewn patches, with Keys tallying 38 winners to 49 unforced errors and Blinkova 19 winners to 38 unforced errors. Power was the bedrock of both their strategies, but Keys also impressed with agile movement around the court to counter Blinkova's net rushes and drop shots.
There were 17 breaks of serve in total, including a stretch of eight in a row across the second and third sets. Keys snapped that streak by finding consecutive one-two punches to hold for 4-2 in the decider, and eased home from there, converting her first match point with a breathtaking backhand winner on the line.
"Honestly, I thought she played a phenomenal match," Keys said afterwards. "I think there were just a couple of things I don't think I was doing well enough to get errors from her. Towards the end of the third set, I changed my tactics a little bit -- tried to get forward in the court a bit and to be the aggressor. And luckily I won."
Keys will face Wang Xinyu in the second round.