MELBOURNE, Australia - No.3 seed Caroline Wozniacki made an efficient start to the defence of her Australian Open crown, opening the year's first Rod Laver Arena night session with a solid 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Alison Van Uytvanck.
The Dane has only one first-round exit in Melbourne on her record in 11 past appearances, to Yulia Putintseva in 2016, and rarely seemed in danger of dropping another across today's one hour and 33 minutes. Van Uytvanck, by contrast, falls to a 0-5 career record at the Australian Open and a second straight-sets loss to Wozniacki in as many meetings, having also previously fallen 6-1, 6-4 in the second round of Rome last year.
This time around was a better contest, felt Wozniacki. "I was surprised at the consistency that she had," mused the two-time US Open runner-up. "I think she played extremely well. [In Rome], I felt like the rallies weren't as long. It was either a winner or mistake. But I feel like today we had a lot of good, long rallies. I felt like I played well. I served well. She served well."
In the initial stages, both players probed each other's games to intriguing effect, with both forced to save a break point in their opening service games. In Van Uytvanck's last match against a Top 10 player, the 24-year-old had caused one of the biggest shocks of Wimbledon last year in upsetting Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round, and the same unique mixture of powerful, flat hitting and spin-laden variety was on show today.
Successfully dropshotting a supreme mover such as Wozniacki is rarely a successful strategy, but Van Uytvanck was able to do so three times in the first three games. The Belgian would also make a number of sharp forays forward over the course of the match, coming out on top of 12 out of 17 net ventures, trusting in her firm overhead to hit through Wozniacki's indomitable baseline defence.
As the defending champion settled, though, her grip of the match momentum tightened. Spreading her forehand from line to line, Wozniacki's ability to open up the court frequently put Van Uytvanck on to the defensive - and in the sixth game of the first set, the 28-year-old stepped up the pressure to force her opponent into a three-deuce service tussle, with a forehand pass at full stretch a particular highlight.
Having closed out two previous holds with aces, Van Uytvanck could not sustain her clutch serving, conceding the game on the fourth break point with a double fault. In the subsequent game, the Budapest champion missed a break-back opportunity by dumping a short forehand halfway up the net, and Wozniacki would close the set out with little drama.
The dropshots, too, were working with less frequency. "I know I'm fast," smiled Wozniacki. "She surprised me in the beginning with a couple of dropshots, especially when she was standing behind the baseline and I wasn't expecting it. Then I was more alert on it.
"I was happy with even a couple of them. I was like, Oh, wow, these are really close to the net... I actually got to them, hit it well. I kind of complimented myself on a couple of them."
The second set would also be decided by one break, again set up by Wozniacki with a forehand pass in the third game. The former World No.1, balancing aggression and consistency with admirable focus, kept her unforced error total to 16 - compared to Van Uytvanck's 34 - while also coming up with 21 winners, while strong serving prevented Van Uytvanck from garnering even one break point in the second set.
Though the World No.52's net play fended off a point to go down a double break in the seventh game and an excellent 20-shot rally saved a first match point, she was unable to find a way back into the match. On Wozniacki's third chance to close it out, the Eastbourne and Beijing champion unhesitatingly put away a short forehand to book a second-round date with Johanna Larsson.