Tunisia’s second seed Ons Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, was far from her fluent best but eventually defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek.
The shaky Jabeur won the first set on a tiebreak, lost the second 6-4, then finally found her rhythm to clinch the decider 6-1.
“I just tried to follow what my coach told me to do,” she said of her turnaround in the third set.
“I wasn’t really doing that and he’s going to kill me after the match,” she joked.
Second seed Ons Jabeur’s quest for a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open began with a shaky 7-6 (10/8), 4-6, 6-1 victory over Tamara Zidansek littered with unforced errors on Tuesday.
The Tunisian was runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open last year but had to grind past the Slovenian world number 98 under the roof on Rod Laver Arena in a 2hr 17min battle.
Jabeur has set herself the twin targets in 2023 of becoming the first Arab and African woman to win one of the four tennis majors and toppling Iga Swiatek from the number one ranking.
But the 28-year-old, who had strapping on her left knee, suffered early nerves as she took to Melbourne Park’s centre court for the night session on day two.
Jabeur dropped her opening service game but broke back straight away.
Further breaks were exchanged before the powerful Jabeur eventually outlasted the Slovenian 10-8 in an attritional tiebreak at the end of a first set that lasted 68 minutes.
Serving at 3-4 in the second, Jabeur was broken for a third time and Zidansek took advantage to level the match.
But after the extended interval between sets, Jabeur cleaned up her play, made fewer errors and sped away to victory.
Caroline Garcia and Aryna Sabalenka – fourth and fifth seeds respectively – had it easier as they swept into the second round.
France’s Garcia took just 65 minutes to overwhelm Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-0 and cement her status as a contender for the first Grand Slam of the year.
Sabalenka beat the Czech Republic’s Tereza Martincova 6-1, 6-4.
The 26th seed Elise Mertens was another winner. The Belgian outlasted Spain’s former Melbourne finalist Garbine Muguruza, who was cramping before losing 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.