MELBOURNE, January 20, 2020 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Monday at the 2020 Australian Open saw the usual fanfare that accompanies the opening day of a major, with pouring rain acting as a welcome – for a change – interruption. There were several notable upsets that was missing among the women. However, the women’s singles draw did witness a couple of toppled seeds while most cruised ahead.
Contrasting Fortunes for the Williams Sisters
Taking to the Rod Laver Arena for the second match of the day session, seven-time champion Serena Williams took just 58 minutes to bundle out Russian teen Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-3. She hit 24 winners, of which nine were aces and won 81% points off her first service.
For Williams, this year’s Australian Open is seen as yet another opportunity to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams. The American, however, said she was approaching the event a little differently this time around.
“I think it’s factored a lot into my game, and now it’s just more or less about doing the best that Serena Williams can do. Margaret Court was a wonderful, great champion. And now how great is Serena Williams?” remarked Williams, who has been thwarted in all four major finals she has played since her return to the tour following her pregnancy.
“That’s it. That’s kind of what I have been thinking about the last couple of weeks and months. It definitely helps me relax a lot.”
Venus falls to Coco
The other Williams in the fray, Venus Williams, did not fare so well against her teenage compatriot Coco Gauff. The youngster who was taking on the former teenage prodigy in a rematch of their 2019 Wimbledon first round replicated the result. Playing under the closed roof of the Margaret Court Arena, Gauff was put through her paces but eventually went on to claim a 7-6(5), 6-3 win in an hour and 37 minutes.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2020
The matured 15-year-old went on to reiterate how she has learnt to separate her idolatry of the Williamses from her competitiveness to face them as rivals. “Obviously I look up to them (Venus and Serena Williams). Every time, even just walking by them, I have to remember that even though they’re my idols, they’re also going to be my opponents sometimes,” she said.
2019 Champion and Finalist make Quick Work
Third seed and defending titlist, Japan’s Naomi Osaka defeated the Czech Republic’s Maria Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and 20 minutes. Osaka was the first to open the tournament edition’s play at the Rod Laver Arena. After the match, the 22-year-old shared she was relieved to have gotten over the match in straight sets given that she had never faced Bouzkova before.
“I was really thankful to get through in two [sets]. I’ve never played her before. It’s really tough to play someone you’ve never played in the first round of a Grand Slam”
Osaka’s 2019 final’s opponent, Petra Kvitova had an even easier foray into the second round over fellow Czech Republican, Katerina Siniakova. The seventh-seeded Kvitova clinched the win 6-1, 6-0 in just 50 minutes.
Reigning World No. 1, and former World No. 1 move on
World No. 1 and top-seed Ashleigh Barty outlasted the tenacious Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine in their opening-round match. Playing the first match of the evening session, the Australian dropped the opening set but dropped just two games over the course of the next two sets to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in an hour and 36 minutes.
World No.1 😁
Round 1 win 😁
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2020
Evaluating the match, the 23-year-old made a mention of the positives that came off it. She noted, “I felt comfortable knowing that I just needed to change a few things, to adjust, to try and bring the match back in my favour.” Thanking the crowd for their support in helping her to shift the momentum, she added, “I think the crowd was incredible. Certainly, once I got a bit of a roll on, they became more and more influential, I think. It was pretty nice to play in front of a full crowd tonight.”
Meanwhile, former World No. 1 and 2018 champion at Melbourne Park, Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki began her last event with a victory over the US-American Kristie Ahn 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 25 minutes.
Earlier, in the day session, before rain marred play, 32nd seeded Czech Barbora Strycova was ousted in straight sets. Romanian Sorana Cirstea handed Strycova the defeat in her one-hour-43-minute 6-2, 7-6(5) triumph.
Lastly, the US-American 24th seed Sloane Stephens lost her first-round match against China’s Shuai Zhang. Zhang, who celebrates her birthday on Tuesday, 21st January, gifted herself a comeback victory, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours and two minutes. Memorable as her birthday may turn out to be for Zhang, the defeat compounds Stephens’ problems.
The 2017 US Open champion has now lost four first-round matches in the nine Majors she has played since her maiden Major win.