Defending champion Sofia Kenin safely through in Melbourne

Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent
·4-min read

An emotional Sofia Kenin battled Maddison Inglis and her own nerves to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

Kenin is the defending champion after her breakthrough triumph 12 months ago and she admitted after a scrappy 7-5 6-4 victory that she is still trying to work out how to handle the occasion.

The fourth seed said: “I have great memories. Obviously being on the court, obviously imagining everything, where everything was, I tried to put that aside.

“Maybe there were some tears. Eyes were a little bit wet during the match. Obviously it’s emotional. I have to handle my emotions, let off some steam before the match. As the match went, luckily it was fine.

“Towards the end, you could see I got a little bit emotional as well. Standing at the net, ‘OK, don’t cry’.

“Obviously I don’t have any tricks because this is my first time experiencing this. I hope, obviously, that my emotions will somehow come down hopefully as the matches go. We’ll see. I cannot promise anything.”

Not since 2003, when Jennifer Capriati was beaten by Marlene Weingartner, has a women’s defending champion lost in the first round at Melbourne Park.

Garbine Muguruza celebrates victory over Margarita Gasparyan
Garbine Muguruza celebrates victory over Margarita Gasparyan (Rick Rycroft/AP)

That never really looked on the cards but Kenin trailed 3-1 to Australian wild card Inglis, who is yet to win a tour-level match, in the first set and, although she steadied herself thereafter, she never fully settled into the match.

The American next meets big-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi, who defeated Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-1.

World number one Ashleigh Barty staged a spectacular return to grand slam tennis as she swept aside Danka Kovinic 6-0 6-0 in just 44 minutes.

Barty has not played in a grand slam tournament since exiting the Australian Open at the second-round stage a year ago, after electing to miss the US and French Open over coronavirus concerns.

Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka was a first-round casualty, last year’s US Open finalist going down 7-5 6-4 to American Jessica Pegula.

Azarenka was one of the players who had to go through a hard 14-day quarantine and she needed medical treatment during the second set for apparent breathing problems.

Victoria Azarenka shows her frustration during a first-round loss to Jessica Pegula
Victoria Azarenka shows her frustration during a first-round loss to Jessica Pegula (Rick Rycroft/AP)

Azarenka did not want to discuss her medical issues afterwards but said of her build-up: “Was that the best preparation for me? No.

“I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to perform how I knew I could. That’s a bit hard to accept. 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.”

Spain’s Paula Badosa capped a miserable stay in Australia with a 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) 7-5 loss to Liudmila Samsonova.

Badosa endured 21 days in hard quarantine after contracting coronavirus and made no secret of how difficult she found the experience.

She was in sight of the considerable consolation of a first-round victory when she served for the match in the deciding set only for Samsonova to claim the last three games.

Badosa faced a lot of criticism in Australia for her complaints about her situation, and she said: “Emotionally I have to be honest, it was tough reading all that kind of things. I think people didn’t understand me, what I wanted to explain.

“I know the rules are the rules. But the conditions, they weren’t for a grand slam, for an athlete. It was tough mentally to get through all that. In Australia, they were being very tough on me.”

Maria Sakkari was another quarantine victim to suffer an early exit, the in-form 20th seed beaten 6-2 0-6 6-3 by France’s Kristina Mladenovic.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina saved a set point in the second set of her 6-3 7-6 (5) victory over Marie Bouzkova and next plays Coco Gauff, who was a 6-3 6-2 winner against Jil Teichmann.

Garbine Muguruza, who lost to Kenin in the final last year, was a comfortable 6-4 6-0 winner over Margarita Gasparyan while 11th seed Belinda Bencic and former semi-finalist Elise Mertens are also through.