March 5th, 2024

Swiatek beats Kenin, faces Collins next in a tough Australian Open bracket. Rybakina also advances

By Simon Cambers, The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Top-ranked Iga Swiatek survived an early test of her Australian Open title hopes when she held off 2020 champion Sofia Kenin 7-6 (2), 6-2 on Tuesday in the first round.

Kenin served for the first set at 5-4 but could not close it out. Swiatek rallied to take it in a tiebreaker and then broke Kenin’s serve five games later.

“It wasn’t easy to find my rhythm. I felt a little bit off and Sofia did everything to keep it that way, huge respect to her,” Swiatek said. “I managed to get my level up in the second set.”

Swiatek, aiming for a fifth major title but first in Australia, faces another former finalist in her tough bracket at the top of the women’s draw.

Danielle Collins, the runner-up here two years ago, beat 2016 champion Angelique Kerber 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

“A tough little bracket that we have!” Collins said of the first two rounds. “I was like, ‘wow, I get really great draws now. But if you’re trying to win a Grand Slam, you kind of have to beat everyone.”

Kerber was one of three past Australian champions making their returns to Melbourne Park for the first time as mothers. She joined four-time major winner Naomi Osaka as a first-round exit. Caroline Wozniacki, the 2018 winner, has reached the second round.

Last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina advanced 7-6 (6), 6-4 over former No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova to start the night session on Rod Laver Arena.

Victoria Azarenka, who won back-to-back titles here in 2012 and ’13, won a hard-hitting contest with Camila Giorgi of Italy, advancing 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. No. 11-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, the former French Open champion, beat Kimberley Birrell 7-6 (5), 6-1.

“Right into the tournament, right, playing against Camila, we know how dangerous she can be,” 18th-seeded Azarenka said. “I feel like I didn’t play my best tennis today but I am happy I was able to find my way around.”

Sloane Stephens found her way back to the winner column after picking up her first victory at the Australian Open since 2019. She beat wild-card entry Olivia Gadecki 6-3, 6-1. The 30-year-old American, who won the U.S. Open in 2017, won five straight games from 2-0 down in the opening set and eased through the second to clinch victory in just under an hour.

“Pleased with the way I played,” said Stephens, who reached the semifinals of the event in 2013 but who has lost in the first round in seven of her past eight visits to Melbourne. “I’ve been working a lot on making the opponents play. I think that’s something I had got away from. Pleased with the win.”

In men’s results, 11th-seeded Casper Ruud beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 and Cameron Norrie defeated Juan Pablo Varillas 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Grigor Dimitrov, the No. 13 seed, beat Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-2.

Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal earned his second Grand Slam main draw win with an upset victory over 31st-seeded Alexander Bublik, winning 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5).

Men’s second-ranked Carlos Alcaraz began his title bid later Tuesday. Alcaraz, last year’s Wimbledon winner, played Richard Gasquet in the last match of the night session on Rod Laver Arena.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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