Grand Slam champions Venus Williams, Sam Stosur and Jelena Ostapenko launched their Australian Summer Series campaigns with mixed fortunes as Melbourne Park hosted its first competitive matches of 2021 at the Yarra Valley Classic and Gippsland Trophy on Sunday.
Daria Gavrilova, on the comeback from a year out to injury, gave home fans cause for celebration as the sole Australian to notch a win.
Match of the day
(13) Jelena Ostapenko v Sara Errani – Gippsland Trophy
Wild shot-making and even wilder gesticulations were two of the only certainties in the ultimate contrast of styles when former top-five combatants Ostapenko and Sara Errani locked horns in the opening round.
While Errani claimed their only prior meeting at the US Open in 2015, 13th seed Ostapenko had become a Grand Slam champion in Paris since, the same major where the Italian had come up short in the 2012 final.
From a set and a break down, the heavier-striking Ostapenko began to hone her hefty cuts to surge back to a set apiece on the back of 18 winners.
The Latvian carried the momentum into the deciding set and ended up winning 10 of the last 11 games to advance on the back of a casual 56 winners, 4-6 6-3 6-1.
Venus Williams v Arantxa Rus – Yarra Valley Classic
As the oldest player in the draw, 40-year-old Williams showed no signs of lockdown rust in a convincing 6-1 6-3 win over Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus.
The seven-time major winner needed just 65 minutes to see off the world No.74, clocking 18 winners to set a second-round encounter against fellow Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova.
“I’m still here, I’m still good at this … I love my job,” she beamed.
Barring a young ball girl forced to leave the court after what she appeared to suffer an injury, Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia encountered few obstacles on her charge through to the second round.
The 12th seed prevailed 6-3 6-4 over Australian Arina Rodionova.
Slovenian 15th seed Polona Hercog also advanced. The 30-year-old rebounded for a 2-6 6-3 6-3 win over Russian Margarita Gasparyan to set a second-round clash with another Russian, Daria Kasatkina.
Yarra Valley Classic
In her first outing since March last year, former US Open champion Stosur was unable to cash in on home-court advantage as she fell 6-2 6-0 to 16th seed Marie Bouzkova. The Czech had dealt Stosur defeat at the opening hurdle before on home soil, in Brisbane three years ago. She next faces Spain’s Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov.
Former Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins was among the first winners on Sunday. The 13th-seeded American, who brought down former champion Angelique Kerber en route to her best run at a major at Melbourne Park in 2019, took just 75 minutes to post a 6-3 6-3 victory over Belgian Ysaline Bonaventure.
In a battle of teenage former junior Slam champions, Anastasia Potapova was the first winner of the day, 6-3 6-0 against Whitney Osuigwe.
The Russian’s triumph set a showdown with top seed Simona Halep in the second round and held extra sentiment, having been out of action since July due to ankle surgery.
She tweeted soon after at being “extremely happy to get my first win after the surgery, especially in Australia”.
There was as a resounding victory, too, for another Russian on a comeback from injury as former world No.10 Kasatkina prevailed over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-1 6-1.
Yarra Valley Classic
Injury scuppered Gavrilova’s entire 2020, so it was a welcome return for the affable Aussie as she breezed past Slovak Viktoria Kuzmova to lock in a second-round showdown with Serena Williams.
Aggressive throughout, the 26-year-old cleaned up in the final eight games to post a 6-2 6-0 victory and avenge a defeat in the 2019 Miami Open.
It handed Kuzmova her seventh straight loss dating back to August last year.
Going the distance
A pair of women from former Soviet nations with fond memories of a blistering start to the season in Brisbane posted gutsy comebacks on Sunday, as Kaia Kanepi followed Aliaksandra Sasnovich into the second round.
Estonian Kanepi, the 2012 Brisbane champion, won 10 of the last 12 games to deny Astra Sharma 1-6 7-5 6-2 after the Australian had served for the match in the second set. She next meets Aryna Sabalenka.
Belarusian Sasnovich made the 2018 Brisbane final as a qualifier, and on Sunday fought back from a set and 0-4 down to overcome Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko 3-6 6-4 6-4 – at one stage going on a nine-game tear.
Quotes of the day
“It was fun but so stressful so I think the next one will be better … Now we are out here and playing, it’s really nice to play a match and we know that it’s going to be fun … but it’s almost too crowded sometimes for us.”
- Garcia sees the light side to suddenly playing in stadiums with fans again at the Gippsland Trophy.
“Oh I’ve seen her training on Instagram. She doesn’t look rusty at all. I think I’d better be prepared, definitely no karaoke nights before that one.”
- Gavrilova hoses down talk of an upset against her next opponent, Serena Williams, at the Yarra Valley Classic.