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Women’s young guns make their mark on Monday

  • Ravi Ubha

When Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title, it spawned the #shethenorth hashtag. How about #sheacomebackwinner after the 20-year-old edged lucky loser Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 at Australian Open 2021 in her first outing in 15 months? 

MORE: All the scores from Day 1 at AO 2021

Here’s what we learned about Andreescu and some of the other younger female guard on Day 1. 

Andreescu is still clutch 

Andreescu and her varied game produced when it really mattered two years ago, one of the reasons why she clinched the crown at the 2019 US Open against Serena Williams. 

Despite her inactivity due to a knee injury and subsequent recovery, Andreescu still played those big points well against Buzarnescu. An example? Saving three straight break chances at 3-3 in the final set at John Cain Arena. 

After exchanging a hug at the net with former world No.20 Buzarnescu — whose career has never been the same thanks to an ankle injury in 2018 — Andreescu walked to her chair and took in the moment. 

She said she shed tears on Sunday, anticipating her return. 

Andreescu was emotional after her opening-round victory

“I was really, really nervous,” said Andreescu, who plays the unorthodox Hsieh Su-wei in a popcorn second round encounter. 

“Not only that, but just overwhelmed about everything because first of all, I had the emotions of just being so happy and grateful to be back on the court, healthy, all of that stuff, and then also the nervousness of, ‘Oh, if I win, if I lose,’ this kind of stuff. 

“And obviously I want to win, so I tried not to pay too much attention to that, which is easy to say. But to me that was my goal. It was just to feel super happy on the court and just grateful to be back.” 

We're happy to have her back, too. 

Iga likes those quick starts 

Reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek sure likes those fast starts at Grand Slams. 

The 19-year-old led 2-0 in the first set in six of her seven matches in Paris to set the tone, and did it again against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands at 1573 Arena as part of a 6-1 6-3 victory. 

Swiatek also collected her eighth straight win at a major without conceding a set, although the Pole did trail 2-0 in the second against the Dutchwoman, who topped her in Rome just before her heroics on the red clay of Roland Garros. 

Rus’ lone break point came in the second game of the second set while Swiatek manufactured 17 break points. 

Swiatek next faces the big-hitting Camila Giorgi — who cruised 6-2 6-0 when they met in the second round in Melbourne in 2019. 

“So I think I made progress since our last match,” Swiatek said. 

No one would disagree. 

Vondrousova is turning into a comeback kid

Swiatek crushed Marketa Vondrousova in the first round at the 2020 French Open, a result that doesn’t look so bad now given how the tournament unfolded. 

But the 2019 finalist in Paris overcame the first hurdle at Court 3, rallying from a set and break deficit to win 2-6 7-5 7-5 against Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson. 

Vondrousova had to dig deep to deny Peterson

The crafty Czech is on to something. The 21-year-old won her second match in a week after being down a set, something she achieved only once in 2020 and four times in 2019. 

The left-hander meets another comeback Canadian in the second round, Rebecca Marino. Marino retired in 2013, returned in 2018 and collected her first Grand Slam win in 10 years Monday by defeating Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-0 7-6(9). 

Sabalenka knows how to bounce back

Aryna Sabalenka entered the Australian summer as one of the hottest players on the tour, winning three straight tournaments and 15 consecutive matches. 

But how would the huge hitting Belarusian respond after losing her opener last week at the Gippsland Trophy to Kaia Kanepi? 

Very well, as it turned out. 

The seventh seed grabbed the first nine games against fellow power baseliner Viktoria Kuzmova before a wobble. That has been known to happen to the 22-year-old — but such dips are lessening.

Sabalenka broke in the final game for a 6-0 6-4 win, bringing up a clash with the resurgent Daria Kasatkina, 23.

Is AO 21 where Sabalenka makes that long awaited first Grand Slam quarterfinal? 

Rybakina loves to hit winners

Elena Rybakina made five finals in 2020, despite the season being shortened due to the pandemic. 

The 17th seed likes to dictate and delivered 40 winners — tied for the second most in women’s singles on Monday behind Ons Jabeur’s 45 — in a 4-6 6-4 6-4 win over two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva. 

In one of those two-game swings often seen in tennis, Rybakina saved a break point at 4-4 in the final set, then broke to advance.

Up next for the 21-year-old from Kazakhstan is Fiona Ferro.