MELBOURNE, Australia – The combination of Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens caused an upset in the first round of the Australian Open doubles tournament as they defeated No.15 seeds Demi Schuurs and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Schuurs’ serve proved to be the weak link for the higher-ranked pairing and was twice broken in a first set that otherwise saw six holds.
The American-Dutch combination rallied at the beginning of the second, which proved to be their best period of the match. Five games were won in succession, with the seeded duo showing greater resilience at tight moments.
Although their opponents managed to hit back by winning three in a row, Mattek-Sands served out to 30 and levelled the match.
The final set proved the most unpredictable of the match. Mattek-Sands and Schuurs began positively, breaking Sabalenka then holding themselves.
However, the watershed moment came in the third game, when they missed two break points to go 3-0 up. After Mertens had grittily saved the game, she and her partner set about breaking Schuurs once more.
Four more break-point opportunities were squandered by Mattek-Sands and Schuurs on the Mertens delivery in what proved to be the longest game of the match. Fittingly, it was also the defining one.
Having moved 4-3 clear, the unseeded pairing had a licence to attack the Dutchwoman's serve once more and at the third opportunity gained the decisive break.
Although Mattek-Sands saved the first match point on the Sabalenka delivery in the following game, they were unable to resist any longer and became high-profile first-round casualties.
The No.16 seeds, Peng Shuai and Yang Zhaoxuan, were among the other pairings to make an early exit from the competition, seen off by Ashleigh Barty and Victoria Azarenka.
With CoCo Vandeweghe still injured, the Australian has teamed up with the Belarusian and they made a positive start in Melbourne by coming through, 7-5, 6-4, 7-5 in a hotly contested encounter.
Defending champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic are once more one of the favorites for the title and the No.2 seeds eased to a 6-0, 6-3 victory against Galina Voskoboeva and Raluca Olaru.
There was a minor hiccup for No.10 seeds Irina-Camelia Begu and Mihaela Buzarnescu, who lost the second set to Lizette Cabrera and Jaimee Fourlis before taking the match, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
Meanwhile, the other seeded pairings in action on Wednesday, Chan Hao-ching and Latisha Chan, Hsieh Su-wei and Abigail Spears, Raquel Atawo and Katarina Srebotnik, and Eri Hozumi and Alicja Rosolska, all won through in straight sets.