Hard work for Halep as Serena and Osaka sail through

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal pose for photos after Australian Open final

Daria Kasatkina was the highest-ranked seed to be beaten on day two of the women’s singles at Melbourne Park, but Simona Halep had a scare.

Simona Halep was forced to battle hard to reach the second round of the Australian Open on a day when many of her rivals enjoyed straightforward wins.

Halep’s victory certainly did not come easily, the world number one forced to come from a set and a break down to overcome Kaia Kanepi, the powerful Estonian who beat her in the first round of last year’s US Open.

Kanepi’s lack of consistency ultimately proved decisive as Halep triumphed 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 6-2 to claim her first win since August, having missed the latter stages of the 2018 season due to a back injury.

While Halep was pushed by her opponent, the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova all progressed in routine fashion.

Daria Kasatkina, Mihaela Buzarnescu and Dominika Cibulkova were the only seeds to bow out on Tuesday, suffering respective defeats to Timea Bacsinszky, Venus Williams and Zhang Shuai.

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka was beaten by Laura Siegemund and cut an emotional figure in her post-match news conference.

 

SERENA STARTS STRONGLY IN FAMILIAR COURT PURSUIT

Seven-time Australian Open champion Williams recorded a ruthless 6-0 6-2 win over Tatjana Maria in her first appearance at Melbourne Park since winning the 2017 women’s singles when pregnant.

 

The 37-year-old is once again seeking to equal Margaret Court’s record haul of 24 grand slam singles titles, having fallen agonisingly short with final defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

“I have been going for the record what seems like forever now, so it doesn’t feel any different,” said Williams of her latest bid to draw level with Court.

Next up for Serena is a meeting with Eugenie Bouchard in round two.

 

KANEPI ERRATIC EN ROUTE TO HALEP DEFEAT

Kanepi produced moments of the highest class against Halep, but also a string of woeful mistakes.

Always aggressive in her approach, the veteran looked set to repeat her US Open victory over Halep when she moved 2-1 up in set two after taking the first in a tie-break.

At that point, Kanepi was firing winner after winner, but she could not maintain her level and finished the contest with a remarkable 62 unforced errors as Halep took the decider with ease.

 

OSAKA NOT FOCUSED ON NUMBER ONE

Halep’s position atop the rankings is under threat, with US Open champion Osaka among a host of players who could end the fortnight as the new world number one.

However, after beating Magda Linette 6-4 6-2, Osaka said: “That’s not really my goal. I just want to play well in this tournament. I’ll see how my ranking is after. Rankings were never that much of a concern to me.”

 

Osaka will face Tamara Zidansek in round two after the unheralded Slovenian sprung a surprise with victory over home favourite Daria Gavrilova.

“I don’t really know who my next opponent is. I’ve never really seen her play,” admitted Osaka. “I think I need to watch a lot of [her] matches tomorrow, just try to figure out what I’m going to do.”

 

STRUGGLING AZARENKA DETERMINED TO KEEP FIGHTING

Azarenka broke down in tears in a news conference following her loss to Siegemund, as she reflected on the challenges she is facing after missing much of the last three seasons due to injury, the birth of her first child and a subsequent custody battle.

The women’s champion of 2012 and 2013 said: “My confidence level obviously is not there … it’s a struggle at the moment. It’s not easy to sit here right now and be positive, but I don’t have a choice. You’ve got to keep going. It’s not going to stop me.”

 

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