Aryna Sabalenka and Caroline Garcia completed their 2022 seasons with momentum. They played each other in the final of last year's WTA Finals where Garcia won a tight two-setter. Both wrapped up the season ranked inside the Top 5.
That momentum has continued at least through the first round of the 2023 Australian Open, where they each picked up swift wins on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday. Here are takeaways from their matches:
Sabalenka's serve comes through: No.5 seed Sabalenka extended yet another stellar start to the season, dispatching 74th-ranked Tereza Martincova 6-1, 6-4 in just 1 hour and 9 minutes to reach the second round.
Sabalenka, who won her 11th career title at the Adelaide International 1 just over a week ago, has started the year with a 5-0 record for the third time in the last five seasons. She has also won her last 10 Grand Slam first-round matches.
Sabalenka's power game was bolstered by her steeliness when down break points -- she saved all five she faced. She had to fend off four of those at 1-1 in the first set, but after that, she raced through the rest of the opener without the loss of a game.
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A similar scenario occurred at 1-0 in the second set, when she fired a rally forehand pass down the line out of nowhere to save Martincova's final break point. Sabalenka went on to hold, then immediately claimed the decisive break for a 2-1 lead en route to the comprehensive victory.
"The only thing I can say is that I'm really working hard," Sabalenka said in press. "Physically, mentally, yes, I'm ready to go deep [in Melbourne]. Hopefully I will do my best on court, and I will go deep."
Garcia's 180 from a year ago: No.4 seed Garcia needed just 1 hour and 5 minutes to storm past Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-0 and book her spot in the second round. Sebov was making her Grand Slam main-draw debut and was playing a Top 10 opponent for the first time.
This result marked a complete turnaround from Garcia's performance in Melbourne 12 months ago, where she was ranked outside the Top 70 and lost to another qualifier, Hailey Baptiste, in the first round.
Sebov, ranked World No.190, stuck with Garcia for the first seven games on Tuesday before Garcia unleashed a forehand winner to break for 5-3. Garcia slammed two straight aces to end the first set before being mostly untroubled in the second set.
Garcia has persistently praised her aggressive mindset for her improved form during the second half of 2022, and she put that into practice against Sebov, firing 22 winners to the qualifier's one.
"The ball was not going out of the racquet very fast in the first couple of games," Garcia said in her post-match press conference. "Then with time it got better and better. I'm glad I stayed calm and just focused one point at a time to be able to improve and stay positive."
The grind continues: The draw quickly gets more competitive round by round in a Grand Slam event, and this fortnight is absolutely no exception, particularly for Garcia and Sabalenka.
Garcia will immediately face a dangerous floater in her next match -- and her second straight Canadian opponent -- when she has her first meeting with 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez.
Fernandez, just outside the seedings at World No.40, got through a first-round match on Tuesday, when she took down the highest-ranked unseeded player, World No.34 Alizé Cornet 7-5, 6-2.
Cornet reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne last year, but she fell at the first hurdle this time around to 20-year-old Fernandez, who won 62 percent of points returning the Cornet second serve.
Highlights: Sabalenka d. Martincova | Mertens d. Muguruza | Townsend d. Parry | Fernandez d. Cornet | Pliskova d. Wang Xiyu | L.Fruhvirtova d. Fourlis | Garcia d. Sebov | Bencic d. Tomova | Jabeur d. Zidansek | Martic d. Golubic | Putintseva d. Cirstea
Meanwhile, Sabalenka will have her hands full with upset specialist Shelby Rogers in the second round, after Rogers ousted qualifier Arianne Hartono 6-4, 6-3. Rogers has upset three Top 10 at Grand Slams, including a win against then-No.1 Ashleigh Barty at the 2021 US Open.
If Sabalenka defeats Rogers, she could potentially face her longtime former doubles partner Elise Mertens in the third round. No.26 seed Mertens toppled former World No.1 and 2020 Australian Open finalist Garbiñe Muguruza 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 on Tuesday.