Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams took their first steps towards a potential fourth-round blockbuster at Australian Open 2021 after coming through straight-sets victories on Monday.
Yet fellow Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber departed the tournament, marking the first time she will not appear in the second week in Melbourne since 2015.
The three women, all multiple major winners and all tour veterans, each appeared at MCA at various times on Monday. All three found themselves in precarious positions throughout their matches.
Kerber, the only Australian Open champion among the trio, was the one to bow out.
The German struggled in a straight-sets loss to Bernarda Pera, falling behind 6-0 3-0 before finally managing to get on the board. And although she briefly appeared on the cusp of an impressive comeback when she held three break points to level scores at 5-5 in the second set, Pera won five straight points to escape, sealing her spot in the second round.
“I was feeling this at the beginning, that of course my balls are always a little bit out and I was not feeling the rhythm that I was before the two weeks, to be honest. But what can I do? I tried the best out of it,” said Kerber, one of the players confined to her hotel room in hard quarantine after arriving in Australia.
“Maybe yes (I could have come back). You don't know. But she played well. She served good in these break points. I had also my chances at the beginning of the second set to make it for 2-1, and I didn't.
Kvitova also looked in trouble when she, too, trailed 3-0 in the second set of an early evening match against Greet Minnen.
But unlike Kerber, Kvitova was at her decisive best when challenged. She fended off three break points in the eighth game to level at 4-4, and with that crisis averted, the world No.8 unloaded on her groundstrokes in the next game, overwhelming her Belgian with her power and breaking for a 5-4 lead.
She served it out comfortably, with her 6-3 6-4 win setting up a second-round meeting with Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
“Of course normally it's on my ball to … play actively and play fast, and I think in those break points it was important I didn't have a mistake and was just going for it,” she assessed.
“Of course it's difficult, but in those two games, which I hold my serve in the second set was the key for sure for the second set. Otherwise I'm playing the third one (smiling).”
It continued Kvitova’s impressive form at the majors; last year the Czech posted a semifinal finish at Roland Garros, was a quarterfinalist in Australia and advanced to the US Open fourth round, one of a very select group to reach the second week at all three Slams held in 2020.
This was just her second win of 2021; her first came last week against Williams, a glorious 7-6(6) 7-5 slugfest on the same court in what was the latest installment of a compelling rivalry.
Earlier on Monday, Williams did her bit to prolong the possibility of a highly-anticipated rematch, thanks to a 7-5 6-2 triumph over Kirsten Flipkens.
Williams, the grand dame of women’s tennis at 40 years of age, trailed a break of serve in the first set before winning 10 of the final 13 games in a resounding finish.
She became the fifth-oldest woman to win a Grand Slam singles match in the Open Era.
She owns seven major singles titles, but has never won the Australian Open, reaching finals at Melbourne Park in 2003 and 2017 and losing both to sister Serena. She is currently ranked No.81.
But still she endures.
“I'm trying to get better every day. I think that no matter what happens to you in life, you always hold your head up high, you give a hundred million percent. That's what I do every single day,” Williams said.
“That's something that I can be proud of.”
Kvitova is one of many impressed by what Williams is achieving, more than 26 years after she played her first professional match.
“Obviously Venus played great match even against me (last week), so she's still playing great. She's still champion, and she really can make huge results,” she said.
“I played good match as well against her, and that's how I wanted to keep it up still.”