Doubles world No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei yesterday survived a scare in the first round of the women’s doubles at the Australian Open, but Taiwan’s other pairing, the Chan sisters, did not as they fell to a shock defeat in their opener at Melbourne Park.
Top seeds Hsieh and Barbora Strycova were pushed all they way by unfancied Australian wild-cards Destanee Aiava and Astra Sharma before eventually prevailing 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in 2 hours, 3 minutes on Court 16.
The Taiwanese-Czech duo saved five of 12 break points and converted eight of 18, hit 24 winners and took advantage of their opponents’ 11 unforced errors to advance to the second round.
The top seeds next face Darija Jurak of Croatia and Nina Stojanovic of Serbia, who defeated Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania and Nadia Podoroska of Argentina 6-0, 5-7, 6-2.
The fifth-seeded Chan sisters, Hao-ching and Latisha, fell to a shock 1-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 defeat to unseeded Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos in 2 hours, 12 minute on Court 10.
The Canadian-Mexican duo won 68 percent of points on their first serve and hit 26 winners as they ousted the Taiwanese duo, who reached the semi-finals last year.
In the women’s singles, big-hitting veteran Kaia Kanepi sent down 10 aces and powered her way past fourth seed Sofia Kenin, overwhelming the reigning champion 6-3, 6-2 in just 64 minutes.
“I obviously felt like I’m not there 100 percent — physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off, obviously. It’s not good,” Kenin said at her news conference, where she wiped away tears. “I mean, I just — I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure.”
There is very little that is subtle about Kanepi’s game and there was not much nuance in the way she described her approach to this match.
“I served really well today. I think this helped a lot. My game plan was to play aggressive, as I normally do,” Kanepi said.
That pretty much summed it up.
Kanepi said her winning performance was not merely a case of taking advantage of Kenin’s nerves because “I was nervous, too ... playing the defending champion, that was the thought.”
Kanepi, 35, had beaten Kenin, 22, in their only previous matchup, part of why this was not a contest the American was looking forward to. Plus, Kanepi has been successful against some of the best on the biggest stages, with seven victories over top-10 opponents at Grand Slams, including then-world No. 1 Simona Halep at the 2018 US Open.
And then there was recent form.
Kenin walked off the court crying after a 6-2, 6-2 loss last week in a tuneup event and explained afterward that her left leg was sore. Kanepi, meanwhile, last week put an end to world No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka’s 15-match winning streak and had won 16 of her past 17 outings.
With serves topping 175kph, Kanepi saved all seven break points she faced and she wound up with a 22-10 edge in winners.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm,” Kenin said. “I was obviously way too nervous.”
Her departure meant three of the top nine seeds were already gone midway through the fourth day at a Grand Slam where routines have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, joining No. 8 Bianca Andreescu (the 2019 US Open champion) and No. 9 Petra Kvitova (a two-time Wimbledon winner) on the sidelines.
Serena Williams remains the last woman to successfully defend a Grand Slam title — at Wimbledon in 2016.
Top-ranked Ash Barty did manage to avoid a surprise, but she blew a big lead in the second set and survived a shaky tiebreaker to get past Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6 (9/7).
Barty is trying to become the first Australian to win the women’s title at Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
“It’s a different challenge every single day,” Barty said. “It’s trying to be the best I can every single day, whatever that level is.”
Other winners included former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and American Shelby Rogers.
Feliciano Lopez, at 39 the oldest player in the men’s singles draw, edged No. 31 seed Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Lopez is appearing at his 75th consecutive Grand Slam singles event, a men’s record.
Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas was pushed all the way by Australian world No. 267 Thanasi Kokkinakis in a 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 win that delayed the night program on Rod Laver Arena.
Tsitsipas next plays Mikael Ymer, who beat 17-year-old Spanish qualifier Carlos Alcaraz in the second round.
Also advancing were No. 9 Matteo Berrettini and Mackenzie McDonald, who beat 22nd seed Borna Coric 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Barty lost only 10 points in the opening round and her match against Gavrilova was equally lopsided until the wobbly finish. She led 5-2 in the second set, but was broken twice serving for the victory.
In the tiebreaker Barty lost several ugly points. Gavrilova, a wild card, failed to convert two set points and committed unforced errors to end the final three rallies.
The two friends then shared a hug at the net.
“When you play another Aussie, rankings go out the window, experience goes out the window,” Barty said. “Typically, you know each other so well. It’s always going to be a tricky match.”
Rogers reached the third round for the first time by beating Olga Danilovic 6-2, 6-3.
Rogers, 28, came into the tournament with a career record of 1-4 in Melbourne, but her ranking and fortunes have been on the rise of late. She reached the quarter-finals at the US Open for the first time in September last year and her year-end ranking was a career-best No. 58.
Rogers was sidelined for 14 months by a knee injury sustained in early 2018 and her ranking at the end of that year was 780th.
She had little trouble with Danilovic, a qualifier from Serbia ranked 183rd. The small crowd on Court 3 included Novak Djokovic, who sat behind the baseline shouting encouragement to his fellow Serb.
Pliskova, seeded sixth, advanced by beating American Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-2.
Pliskova lost serve twice in a seesaw first set, but pulled it out and then pulled away to beat Collins, a 2019 semi-finalist at Melbourne Park.
Pliskova has won 65 matches in Grand Slams, but is still seeking her first major title. She was runner-up to Angelique Kerber at the 2016 US Open.
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