No.2 seed Ons Jabeur needed three sets to advance to the second round of the Australian Open with a 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-1 win over Tamara Zidansek in 2 hours and 17 minutes.
Jabeur had lost to the Slovenian in their last meeting, in 2019 Rome qualifying and for much of the match struggled against both Zidansek's excellent defensive skills and her own mounting error count.
No.98-ranked Zidansek has slipped from the level that saw her reach the 2021 Roland Garros semifinal. She has not beaten a Top 50 player since her victory over Paula Badosa in that tournament's quarterfinals. But she was able to showcase plenty of those skills until falling away in the deciding set.
When Jabeur and Zidansek were on form at the same time, their finesse made for a number of creative, crowd-pleasing highlights. But in between, both endured passages of play where they were unable to execute their shots, with Jabeur racking up 49 unforced errors and Zidansek 40.
A 68-minute opening set saw Jabeur relinquish a 4-1 lead to find herself embroiled in an overtime tiebreak. Having already missed one set point receiving at 5-4, she needed to save three in the tiebreak before converting her third.
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The second set was more routine, going with serve until a flurry of three error-strewn breaks to end it. Zidansek seemed to maintain some momentum in the third, breaking Jabeur again in the opening game -- only to lose control over her forehand and serve. From 1-0 down, Jabeur won 24 of the last 29 points, with consecutive double faults from Zidansek in the final game easing her way over the finishing line.
"It was a very tough match," Jabeur said. "I wasn't playing very well, and she was putting a lot of pressure on me. She's a player that doesn't give up and brings every ball in, so I was getting pretty frustrated. I told myself to be No.2 in the world and just win this match."
In the second round, Jabeur is guaranteed to face a former Top 20 player in either Alison Riske-Amritraj or 2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova.
This is good tennis.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2023
Up a set and chasing the all-important first break of the second, @BelindaBencic wouldn't be denied.@wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/sG6ntXpUu6
No.10 seed Belinda Bencic eased into the second round with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Bulgaria's Viktoriya Tomova. Coming off her seventh career title at the Adelaide International 2 last week, Bencic showed no signs of a letdown or fatigue.
Playing ruthlessly powerful and efficient tennis, Bencic took control from the start. After opening a 2-0 lead, the Swiss managed the match to pocket the win after 67 minutes. She held Tomova to 11 winners while firing 27 of her own. Bencic paired her precision ball striking with minimal errors, hitting just 12 unforced errors compared to Tomova's 16. She did not face a break point in the match.
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
With the win, Bencic improved to 6-1 on the season.
"It's been a great start, it's the best start I ever had," Bencic said on court. "But the season is long and we're trying to grind every week and trying to win tournaments, playing every single week. It's never easy but I'm optimistic for this year."
Bencic will face either Madison Brengle or Claire Liu next.