Wozniacki back to her winning ways

  • Michael Beattie

Caroline Wozniacki made the perfect start to the defence of her Australian Open crown, comfortably ousting Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck 6-3 6-4 to book her spot in the second round on Monday night.

Almost a year on from her triumph over world No.1 Simona Halep in last year’s epic final, the No.3 seed returned to Rod Laver Arena to pick up where she left off, setting up a second-round clash with Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.

Wozniacki insisted she was relieved to come through a “very tricky” opening encounter in front of an appreciative RLA crowd: “It was a good match in general. I was surprised by the consistency that she had. I think she played extremely well. I played her in Rome, where I felt like the rallies weren't as long – it was either a winner or mistake. Today we had a lot of good, long rallies. 

“I felt like I played well. I served well. She served well. She really stepped it up with her serves I feel like in the second set. I was just happy I got the win. It was not an easy one.”

Van Uytvanck arrived at Melbourne Park without so much as a set to her name from four previous first-round appearances, albeit this was her third opener against a former champion following losses to Serena Williams in 2015 and Victoria Azarenka in 2016.

Wozniacki returned to the site of her maiden major last year

Wozniacki had won their only previous encounter, but the Belgian has also garnered a giant-slaying reputation, having beaten 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round on her return to the All England Club last year.

Van Uytvanck made her intentions clear in the opening game, going toe-to-toe with Wozniacki from the baseline before outfoxing her with a couple of drop shots to reach break point. The No.3 seed saw off the danger with some solid serving before turning the tables in the next game, bringing up a break point of her own that the world No.52 saved with an ace.

From the midpoint of the first set, however, Wozniacki seized control. A love hold was followed by a dogged defensive display to break serve, Van Uytvanck double-faulting on the fourth break point to slip 4-2 behind. That was enough to secure the first set that saw both players hit 14 winners, the Dane keeping her error count to just nine – half that of her opponent.

Unforced errors
16 Caroline Wozniacki
34 Alison Van Uytvanck

Wozniacki continued to exploit her superlative use of angles to deny Van Uytvanck any respite on serve, dragging the 24-year-old from corner to corner before breaking at the end of a five-minute game for a 2-1 lead in the second. Again it proved to be enough, Van Uytvanck saving a break point in game seven, but unable to muster one in reply.

The errors finally did for the Belgian, three in succession handing Wozniacki two match points, and though she came off second-best in a 20-shot rally on the first and skewed a forehand wide on the second, she made no mistake with the third, sliding a forehand winner to seal victory in one hour, 33 minutes.