Eight In A Row: A Win’s A Win, Kenin Will Take It

Sofia Kenin (photo: Morgan Hancock/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Tuesday’s second day of the Australian Open was a busy one for the women’s singles draw with 18 seeds in action, including the return of Aussie favorite and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty from an 11-month sabbatical and the debut of reigning champion Sofia Kenin, who a year ago won her first Grand Slam in Melbourne.

The 22-year-old Kenin from the United States, seeded fourth, debuted on Rod Laver Arena against Australian wild card Maddison Inglis, ranked 130th, from Perth. Although Inglis acquitted herself very well and broke the champion early in the match, Kenin’s experience paid off in her 7-5, 6-4 victory in one hour and 24 minutes.

During her pre-tournament press conference last weekend, Kenin kept coming back to the theme of handling her emotions. “Mentally, I’ve got to handle my emotions and understand whoever I’m going to play, they’re obviously going to play with no pressure,” she said.

“They’re probably going to play better against me, so I have to somehow try to handle my nerves.”

While Kenin showed some signs of nervousness, overall seemed to handle her nerves pretty well as she extended her Australian Open winning streak to eight. She finished with 23 winners and 27 unforced errors, while Inglis hit 10 winners but committed 25 unforced errors. Next, Kenin will face No. 94 Kaia Kanepi, who advanced over No. 54 Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3, 6-1.

“I felt a little bit pressure. She obviously came out swinging. I knew she was going to play well,” Kenin said about Inglis, during her post-match press conference. “I knew the crowd was going to be more or less behind her. I’m happy I had some crowd behind me.

“Yeah, obviously I was nervous. Obviously first match at a slam is never easy. Obviously, when she was playing, she’s playing the defending champion. So, of course, she’s looser. I obviously am tight. I wasn’t there 100 percent mentally.

“But a win is a win and I’ll take it.”

Barty spot on, wins in quick fashion

The top seed Barty highlighted the night session on Rod Laver Arena against No. 77 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro and needed just 41 minutes to win 6-0, 6-0. “I feel exactly as the other 127 girls that are playing,” Barty said on Sunday, after winning the WTA 500-series Yarra Valley Classic tune-up over Garbiñe Muguruza. “We’re all in the same draw. I think when the draw predictions are done, I don’t think one’s ever come true in the entirety of tennis. We’ll just see how the draw pans out.”

Against the overmatched Kovinic, Barty hit five aces and 10 winners, won 89 percent (247 of 27) of her service points and dominated on her return, too. She dropped just 10 points during the entire match.

“I think the processes and the things we go through before a match and trying to execute that, that’s always a challenge,” Barty said during her post-match press conference Tuesday evening. “I felt like tonight I had that spot on, which was really pleasing, to be able to roll with the momentum throughout the whole match was really good.”

Next, Barty will face fellow Aussie Daria Gavrilova, who earned a berth in the main draw with a wild card. She delighted the late-night crowd on Margaret Court Arena with her spirited 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 62 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain that ended at 11:32 p.m. after an hour and 32 minutes of play.

“I was surprised by how many people came out and watched me tonight that late,” Gavrilova said. “I was obviously very pleasant with the showing. It was incredible. I’ve missed it so much. Yeah, it was unreal.”

Muguruza keeps the rhythm going

Speaking of Muguruza, with just a day of rest after losing to Barty, the No. 14 seed from Spain needed just 70 minutes to take out 125th-ranked lucky loser Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, 6-4, 6-0. Muguruza converted five of seven break points and took advantage of Gasparyan’s 27 unforced errors to move into the second round against another Russian, 127th-ranked qualifier Ludmilla Samsonova, who upset No. 67 Paula Badosa of Spain, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-5.

Muguruza told Tennis TourTalk that focusing on a Grand Slam with just a day off after completing her previous tournament wasn’t too much to overcome. “I felt like I didn’t have to do much,” she said. “I just felt like another match is coming. I felt like I finished the final, and I had a day to train, then I was back on Margaret Court [Arena]. I didn’t feel like I had to do something different, I’m just wearing different clothes … In that way it helped me to have many matches, just to keep the rhythm, just one more day on court.”

Around Melbourne Park

• Fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine saved two break points in the eighth game of the second set and a set point in the 10th game during her 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over No. 52 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic to set up a second-round showdown with 16-year-old American Coco Gauff, ranked 48th, who lost just five games in her 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 57 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland.

• No 6 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic needed just 47 minutes to complete her 6-0, 6-2 win over Italy’s 97th-ranked Jasmine Paolini. “There was not much I did wrong about today,” she said of her first-round triumph. “I think I started really well, and I was playing quite fast. I was aggressive and everything went a little bit my way. I was serving well, so I think there was not much what she could do today.” Next for Pliskova is Danielle Collins. The 46th-ranked American defeated No. 93 Ana Bogdan of Romania, 6-3, 6-1.

• American Jessica Pegula played inspiring and purposeful in her 7-5, 6-4 win over two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 31, of Belarus, who struggled physically with breathing difficulties in the second set and needed a medical time out.

“I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to perform that I knew I could. That’s a bit hard to accept today because I knew I can play better, a lot better,” said the 12th seeded Azarenka, who last year won the Western & Southern Open and was a finalist at the US Open – her first major final since 2013 – and went 18-4 after the tour restart, including three finals. “At the same time, I feel that I’ve tried everything I can to be able to be prepared, but unfortunately that hasn’t worked out for me.”

It was the 64th-ranked Pegula’s first win the main draw at Melbourne Park.

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland earned her first singles victory in almost a year. The 11th seed defeated Lauren Davis of the United States, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Next, she will face tour veteran and 32nd seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, who took out No. 38 Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-2.

• No. 18 Elise Mertens of Belgium, who Sunday won the Gippsland Trophy, won on her fifth match-point opportunity over rising Canadian star Leylah Fernandez, ranked 89th, 6-1, 6-3. Mertens, who won the Gippsland Trophy tune-up on Sunday, pulled out her victory over Fernandez at the end of a lengthy, 10-point ninth game. Afterward, she told Tennis TourTalk, “I mean she’s still young, she’s a good player. If you let her play, she’s aggressive, she can play aggressive. I think it was just point per point and it’s 40-all, again, a couple times. Yeah, I’m happy that I could close it out with a serve.”

• No. 25 seed Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic defeated former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 7-5, 6-2.

• Other seeded winners: No. 21 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, 7-5, 6-2; No. 22 Jennifer Brady of the United States defeated Aliona Bolsova of Spain, 6-1, 6-3; No. 26 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan over Sloane Stephens of the United States, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; No. 28 Donna Vekic of Croatia beat Wang Yafan of China, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and No. 29 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia bested Martina Trevisan of Italy, 6-3, 6-4.

• Among the seeded upsets, No. 13 Johanna Konta of Great Britain retired from her match with 104th-ranked qualifier Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, trailing 4-6, 2-0; No. 16 Petra Martic of Croatia lost to 183rd-ranked Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4; No. 20 Maria Sakkari of Greece fell to No. 50 Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3; and No. 31 Zhang Shuai of China was defeated by 99th-ranked Ann Li of the United States, 6-2, 6-0.

Tuesday’s results

Wednesday’s order of play

News & noteworthy

Tuesday’s attendance at Melbourne Park was 17,381, a slight dip over Monday’s Opening Day crowd of 17,922.

What they’re saying

• Garbiñe Muguruza on being more focused and mature than in the past:

“I feel it’s an issue of maturity. I think that’s a good way to put it. Tennis players never relax, no matter which round, which tournament. I feel like now I approach different. I accept the fact that it can go wrong. I’m more open to adaptation, to uncertainty.I think, yeah, with the years you start to have an easier perspective, to not take it too emotional everything. Yeah, honestly, it’s a lot about experience.”

• Elise Mertens on the challenges of refocusing herself for a major just two days after winning her the Gippsland Trophy:

“I think well of course you don’t have to travel, that makes it easier for the energy. Also the same courts, same conditions, so it’s very positive that we can stay in one place.

“Yeah, my energy was maybe a bit lower today, I didn’t sleep that well, so as a result of the circumstances I think, yeah, it wasn’t my best match today but I’m very happy that I pulled through, that I kept on fighting and, yeah, I mean those days you need to, you know, pull yourself through the match.”