World No 2 Karolina Pliskova passed her tricky opener test to reach the Australian Open second round on Tuesday. The 27-year-old Czech defeated France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 7-5.
Johanna Konta, the 12th seed, was the highest-ranked name to fall in the women’s opening draw thus far, as Ons Jabeur of Tunisia knocked her out 6-4, 6-2 in the first round.
Maria Sharapova, who needed a wildcard to make the main draw, was dealt a further blow as the five-time Grand Slam champion was beaten in straight sets in first round of the second straight Grand Slam.
Croatia’s 19th-seeded Donna Vekic beat the Russian 6-3, 6-4. There were flashes of the form that helped make Sharapova one of the most marketable women in the sport, with the 145th-ranked Russian coming back from 5-1 down in the first set. But Sharapova, who was banned for 15 months for failing a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open, succumbed in the first set in 36 minutes.
In the night session, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep survived a couple of tumbles and a sore wrist before surging into the second round. The Romanian fourth seed recovered from a poor start to beat the American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 and launch her title bid.
Halep, the 2018 Roland Garros and 2019 Wimbledon champion faces British qualifier Harriet Dart or Japan’s Misaki Doi next.
The 28-year-old had her serve broken in the first game by the 49th-ranked Brady, who defeated world number one Ashleigh Barty in the build-up to the year’s first Grand Slam.
Halep, the 2018 runner-up, was uncharacteristically flustered, taking a couple of tumbles, tossing her racquet and complaining to her coach. She appeared to hurt her right wrist in one fall in the first set, and had heavy strapping put on it.
With both players relentlessly pummelling from the baseline, Halep finally put a punishing first set away in 69 tough minutes, having saved three set points to force the tie-break.
The second set was far more straightforward as the 24-year-old Brady appeared to run out of gas and Halep made light of her painful wrist.
Pliskova, whose best Grand Slam appearance was defeat to Angelique Kerber in the final of the 2016 US Open, called it a “tough test” against 41st-ranked Mladenovic. She plays Germany’s Laura Siegemund or American wildcard CoCo Vandeweghe next in Melbourne.
“We had some good matches in the past and it was tough mentally in the second set,” said Pliskova, who beat Naomi Osaka on the way to winning the Brisbane title this month.
Pliskova, a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year, said the Brisbane triumph had no bearing on the next fortnight.
“It’s a new beginning here so weeks before do not count and nobody remembers,” she said.
Playing on the centre court Rod Laver Arena – a sign of Sharapova’s enduring crowd pulling power – she broke to go 3-1 up in the second set. But Vekic broke back twice and sealed victory on the second match point when Sharapova fired wildly wide.
Sharapova has struggled badly for form and fitness since returning from the ban for taking meldonium. She missed large chunks of last year with a shoulder injury and has seen her ranking plummet.
Later, Australian local Ajla Tomljanovic started with a commanding 6-1 6-1 win, knocking out 31st seed Anastasija Sevastova to reach the second round.
Meanwhile, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber dropped only four games against Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy, winning 6-2, 6-2.
Polona Hercog (SLO) bt Rebecca Peterson (SWE) 6-3, 6-3
Greet Minnen (BEL) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 7-5
Elena Rybakina (KAZ x29) bt Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-3, 6-2
Alison Riske (USA x18) bt Wang Yafan (CHN) 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 6-3
Madison Keys (USA x10) bt Darya Kasatkina (RUS) 6-3, 6-1
Arantxa Rus (NED) bt Magda Linette (POL) 1-6, 6-3, 6-4
Nao Hibino (JPN) bt Shuai Peng (CHN) 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3
Maria Sakkari (GRE x22) bt Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) 6-2, 6-2
Ons Jabeur (TUN) bt Johanna Konta (GBR x12) 6-4, 6-2
Caroline Garcia (FRA) bt Madison Brengle (USA) 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-2
Dayana Yastremska (UKR x23) bt Kaja Juvan (SLO) 6-1, 6-1
Wang Qiang (CHN x27) bt Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 7-6 (7/2), 6-3
Fiona Ferro (FRA) bt Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 6-2, 6-1
Belinda Bencic (SUI x6) bt Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK) 6-3, 7-5
Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) bt Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) 6-1, 6-4
Donna Vekic (CRO x19) bt Maria Sharapova (RUS) 6-3, 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) bt Monica Niculescu (ROU) 5-7, 6-1, 6-0
Catherine Bellis (USA) bt Tatjana Maria (GER) 6-0, 6-2
Karolina Muchova (CZE x20) bt Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (10/7)
Danielle Collins (USA x26) bt Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) bt Hsieh Su-wei (TPE) 6-1, 6-3
Harriet Dart (GBR) bt Misaki Doi (JPN) 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10/6)
Simona Halep (ROU x4) bt Jennifer Brady (USA) 7-6 (7/5), 6-1
Elina Svitolina (UKR x5) bt Katie Boulter (GBR) 6-4, 7-5
Lauren Davis (USA) bt Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 6-4, 6-2
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 0-6, 6-1, 6-0
Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) bt Anastasija Sevastova (LAT x31) 6-1, 6-1
Zarina Diyas (KAZ) bt Amanda Anisimova (USA x21) 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
Anna Blinkova (RUS) bt Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 7-5, 6-4
Arina Rodionova (AUS) bt Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-0
Kiki Bertens (NED x9) bt Irina Begu (ROU) 6-1, 6-4
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) bt Marketa Vondrousova (CZE x15) 6-2, 4-6, 6-4
Camila Giorgi (ITA) bt Antonia Lottner (GER) 6-3, 6-3
Priscilla Hon (AUS) bt Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) 6-3, 6-4
Angelique Kerber (GER x17) bt Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA) 6-2, 6-2
Laura Siegemund (GER) bt Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 6-1, 6-4
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x2) bt Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) 6-1, 7-5
With AFP Inputs