abc– Ash Barty experienced some nervous moments on her serve but still beat Daria Gavrilova in straight sets in the second round of the Australian Open.
In a shock result in the women’s draw, defending champion Sofia Kenin, who beat Barty in the semi-finals last year, exited the tournament via a 6-3, 6-2 loss to unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
Barty, who wore strapping around her left thigh, lost four service games to Gavrilova and chalked up six double faults for the match.
The world number one squandered a 5-2 lead when she served for the match in the second set, but found her composure to eventually win 6-1, 7-6 (9/7) against her fellow Australian in one hour and 32 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
The win sees Barty advance to the last 32 in Melbourne for the fifth consecutive year. She will next play 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.
It also continues her unbeaten return to the WTA Tour after she sat out most of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Barty made a triumphant return to win last week’s Yarra Valley Classic at Melbourne Park.
She played down the fact she was wearing a bandage and tape on her thigh during the match, saying there were no concerns about her fitness.
“The bandage is very big, but that’s more just support so that the tape itself doesn’t fall off,” Barty said.
“It’s not a very subtle tape job, you often see it on a lot of the girls. The guys can hide it beneath their shorts a little bit better. It’s just a little bit of support.
“I played a lot of matches in the last 10 days after not playing for 12 months, which is natural.
Kenin’s Australian Open defence only lasted two matches.
It is the earliest departure of a defending champion since Jennifer Capriati exited the 2003 tournament in the first round.
The fourth-seeded American, who was on the same half of the draw as Barty, had looked unconvincing in her first-round win over Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis, before being overpowered by the 65th-ranked Kanepi on Margaret Court Arena on Thursday.
Kanepi, who at 35 was contesting her 12th Australian Open, sent down her 10th ace on match point to clinch victory over the American.
A tearful Kenin told her post-match media conference she struggled with the pressure of defending her title.
“Obviously I haven’t experienced that [before],” she said.
“I obviously felt like I’m not there 100 per cent physically, mentally … everything just feels real off, obviously. It’s not good.
“I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure. I’m not obviously used to this, so right now I just got to figure out how to play at that level that I played at. Because like today and those matches, it just hasn’t been there.”
Barty breezes through first set
Barty also wore strapping during a doubles match on Wednesday, but her movement did not appear to be inhibited against Gavrilova.
She did make a shaky start to the match, however, when she dropped serve in the opening game.
This was the first game Barty had lost at this year’s tournament, as she thrashed Danka Kovinić 6-0, 6-0 in the opening round on Tuesday.
But Barty soon clicked into gear. She won six consecutive games, a run that included three breaks of the Gavrilova serve, and fired down an ace to close out the first set in 27 minutes.
The women’s top seed looked confident as she controlled proceedings from the baseline with her groundstrokes, while there was purpose in her use of the drop shot and slice.
She did encounter trouble in her first service game of the second set, however, with three double faults helping give Gavrilova a break of serve and a 2-0 lead.
Gavrilova, who was ranked as high as 20 in 2017, failed to consolidate the break and games were back on serve when Barty levelled at 2-2.
Barty went 3-2 up when her opponent dropped serve for a second time in the set. Gavrilova’s frustration was clear to see when she threw her racquet towards her chair after losing the game.
Gavrilova fights back
Gavrilova refused to give up, though, and she had two break points in the next game before Barty served her way out of trouble.
Barty could sniff victory and served for the match, but Gavrilova won four straight games to lead 6-5, a run that included two service breaks.
Gavrilova had two set points in the tiebreak but could not convert either, with Barty fighting back to close out the straight-sets victory
Barty now holds a 4-1 advantage in head-to-head meetings with Gavrilova.
Injury and last year’s coronavirus-disrupted season meant Gavrilova did not play a WTA Tour event for just over 12 months following the 2019 US Open.
Her ranking took a significant hit and she entered the Australian Open 387 on the WTA standings.
“She (Gavrilova) has had a bit of a tricky run with injury over the last 18 months or so, so it’s nice to see her back out competing,” Barty said in her on-court interview.
“I think when you play another Aussie, you play a compatriot, rankings and experience goes out the window. It’s just typically you know each other very well. It was always going to be a tricky match, no matter what.
In other results in the women’s draw, sixth seed Karolína Plíšková beat Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-2.
Belinda Bencic and Elise Mertens, seeded 11 and 18 respectively, also earned spots in the third round.