Fourth seed Sofia Kenin has grappled with defending champion jitters and an inspired home favourite, Maddison Inglis, to pass her opening hurdle at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
A look of unease rarely leaves the 22-year-old’s face and there were ample moments for such concern en route to Kenin's 7-5 6-4 triumph.
“First round is obviously nervous for me,” she said.
“She’s playing well. I knew it was going to be a tough match. I played her I don’t know how many years ago, but we played at Maureen Connolly, I lost.
“Yeah, [there were] emotions, some tears and stuff. I felt a little bit of pressure. She obviously came out swinging. I knew she was going to play well.
“I knew the crowd was going to be more or less behind her. I'm happy I had some crowd behind me. I was nervous. Obviously first match at a Slam is never easy.
“She's playing the defending champion, so of course she's more loose ... I wasn't there 100 per cent mentally, but a win is a win and I'll take it.”
Brisbane-based Inglis was searching for her maiden tour-level win in a first meeting against a top 20 opponent, and the 23-year-old had only beaten two top 100 players before.
Making her fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance, Inglis’s inexperience proved no hindrance early on as she turned defence into attack brilliantly for an early 3-1 lead. However as a string of wild forehands surrendered the advantage.
Kenin finally edged her nose in front with a break for 6-5 before edging the opening set with a forehand volley winner.
Having let slip a 3-1 lead in the second set, luck fell Kenin’s way when a netcord winner brought up the chance to break again and she grabbed it for 4-3.
As the American served for the match, Inglis again piled on the pressure and the crowd on Rod Laver Arena responded.
Frustrated gestures and mutterings in Russian followed as Kenin sent down her first double fault, on her first match point.
A second disappeared when Inglis dragged her wide on a running forehand and it was clear the 22-year-old was feeling a mountain of expectation in the first match of her title defence.
But she has never lost a Grand Slam match after winning the opening set and pulled through on match point No.3 after an hour and 27 minutes.
She finished with 23 winners to Inglis’s 10, but 27 unforced errors left no doubt there was room for improvement ahead of a second-round meeting with dangerous top-10 slayer Kaia Kanepi.
“Defeinitely it was a good result for me last year,” Kenin said. “Winning seven matches is obviously tough when everyone is playing so well in a Grand Slam.
“I’m not too happy with how I played but a win is a win and I’m just going to do everything I can to get ready for the next round.”