World No 1 Ashleigh Barty survived a scare Tuesday before battling through her opening match at the Adelaide International to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three tough sets.
The top seed, who had a bye in the first round at Memorial Drive, faced a struggle to get past her experienced Russian opponent 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 and book a place in the quarter-finals.
The Australian was joined in the last eight by second seed Simona Halep, who made her 2020 competitive debut with a 6-4, 7-5 defeat of Ajla Tomljanovic.
Halep is back with Adelaide coach Darren Cahill after his family leave during 2019, and the Romanian said getting through the opening match of the season is an annual challenge.
“It was a tough match but I expected that, since I’ve played her twice before. I’m very happy to go through. Training cannot compare with actually playing. I got a bit tired in the second set and I’ll have to keep up my level for the next match.”
Barty said she got comfortable as she scored her first season win after losing her opening match last week in Brisbane. The 23-year-old is looking for crucial court time before the Australian Open starts next Monday in Melbourne.
“I was able to play, my style and control a bit more in the third set,” the Australian said.
“No matter what the score is, I try and hang around for the whole match every time. I felt like I was doing the right things. I just needed to hang in there and wait for an opportunity to come and then try and grab it. I’m pretty happy to be able to turn that one around.”
Barty went up a double break of serve up in the deciding third set, but lost the edge as Pavlyuchenkova levelled at 5-all. But the 31st-ranked Russian, who now stands 3-3 in their head-to-head, lost her own serve on a forehand wide as Barty took a 6-5 lead and closed out the win a game later after two hours, 10 minutes.
“I’m very proud of myself the way that 5-all game I was able to regather and then get that last bit of momentum that I needed.”
The Australian, who won the French Open last year, said she was taking nothing for granted while holding the top WTA ranking.
“It’s been an incredible journey for me and my team,” she said. “It was a whirlwind year, but I’m back competing and doing what I love.”
Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens didn’t fare as well, crashing 6-2, 6-2 to 201st-ranked Australian qualifier Arina Rodionova.
The American, whose last match was a second-round ouster in Beijing on October 1, exited in 72 minutes, dropping serve four times. Rodionova worked her way through qualifying rounds, defeating a pair of top 100 opponents to earn her spot in the draw.
“This is my third big win of the week, so I’m not counting anymore,” the winner said.
“Hopefully I manage to continue. It’s always great to get such amazing wins against the top players. I feel pretty good about myself right now.”
Elsewhere, Maria Sakkari of Greece made quick work of Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia 7-5, 6-2.
Last year’s French Open finalist, Czech Marketa Vondrosova, played her first match since picking up an arm injury at last year’s Wimbledon, defeating Tatiana Maria in Adelaide 6-3, 6-0.
German Julia Goerges will line up for a quarter-final place fourth seed Belinda Bencic after defeating Australian wild card Priscilla Hon 7-6 (9/7), 6-3.
In the men’s draw, Britain’s Dan Evans reached the quarters with a 7-5, 6-2 defeat of Alexander Bublik. American qualifier Tommy Paul beat Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-4.
Australian Jordan Thompson was put out 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 in the first round by Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas.