Angelique Kerber made a shaky start to the defense of her Australian Open crown, edging past Lesia Tsurenko in a rollercoaster opening round.
WTA Staff

MELBOURNE, Australia - Angelique Kerber made a shaky start to the defense of her Australian Open crown, edging past Lesia Tsurenko in a rollercoaster opening round encounter.

Only four times has the top seed fallen at the first hurdle of a major, and for a brief moment in the final set Kerber looked in danger of adding her name to this ignominious list. However, the German responded to the crisis magnificently, taking the final five games to close out a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 victory. In the second round she will face compatriot Carina Witthoeft.

"I have to say I'm really happy to be back here. Everything started here for me when I won my first Grand Slam here," Kerber said during her on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs. "The first round is always tough, but I just tried to enjoy it as much as I could. I'm so, so happy to be in the second round."

It has been a tumultuous start to the year for the World No.1, who arrived in Melbourne short of match practice following early defeats at both Brisbane and Sydney. This did not appear to be an issue early on as she sauntered into a commanding lead in front of an appreciative Rod Laver crowd.

Yet from 5-3 ahead in the second set, the wheels began to come off. The following game, Tsurenko saved a match point and then drew level when an increasingly rattled Kerber slapped a forehand into the net. Soon they were heading into an improbable third set and the Ukrainian began to sense an upset.

Angelique Kerber

Twelve months ago, Kerber held her nerve to come from match point down against Misaki Doi in the first round, and a similarly dramatic conclusion looked on the cards when Tsurenko pummeled a backhand to earn a break point opportunity at 2-1 in the decider.

But just as her grip on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup looked to be slipping, Kerber's game spluttered back into life, snapping a couple of forehands to hold serve before teasing the mistakes from Tsurenko's racquet to move back in front. This time, she would not waver, stretching her lead and preying on her tiring opponent to cross the finish line.

"To be honest, I was thinking about my match last year when I lost the second set after having match points. I'm happy that this time I won, and this is what counts," Kerber added.