Sofia Kenin made a nervous start to her Australian Open defence Tuesday, but ailing former champion Victoria Azarenka crashed out after needing treatment for breathing difficulties during a straight-sets defeat.

Later, a red-hot Ashleigh Barty crushed Danka Kovinic without losing a game. It was a masterclass from the 24-year-old Australian, who barely raised a sweat in the 6-0, 6-0 first-round romp in 44 minutes.

Kenin, the fourth seed prevailed 7-5, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes against Australian Maddison Inglis, who is ranked outside the top 100, with the volatile American vocal throughout and frustrated with her patchy performance.

“I’m obviously not happy with the way I played,” said Kenin, who made 27 unforced errors on her return to Rod Laver Arena.

Playing with the roof open, she appeared to move freely but struggled against the gritty Australian during a tight first set marked by long baseline rallies. She eventually shrugged off the 23-year-old Inglis, who has not won a Grand Slam match in four attempts.

Kenin next plays in-form Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, who was runner-up in the warm-up Gippsland Trophy.

The 22-year-old won her first Grand Slam a year ago against Garbine Muguruza, who turned the tables to beat Kenin in a warm-up tournament last week and had little trouble in dispatching Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan 6-4, 6-0 on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena.

Barty, hoping to break her country’s 43-year singles title curse at the Australian Open, never gave her opponent a chance, rolling through a lopsided first set in just 19 minutes.

She continued to hit the lines and overwhelm the errant Montenegrin, who had 28 unforced errors and won just 10 points in total.

Barty entered her home Slam having won the warm-up Yarra Valley Classic in her first tournament in 11 months, after she opted to remain home during the pandemic – even deciding against defending her French Open crown.

Expectations are high for Barty to end her country’s jinx after falling short in the semi-finals to eventual champion Sofia Kenin at last year’s Australian Open, her best performance at Melbourne Park.

She plays compatriot Daria Gavrilova in the second round after the wildcard beat Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 7-5.

But the 2012 and 2013 champion Azarenka was a distressing sight as she went out to Jessica Pegula on the second day of the coronavirus-delayed Grand Slam.

Azarenka, who was one of the players locked down in hard quarantine before the tournament and not allowed out of her room to train for 14 days, began to suffer in the second set.

The 2020 US Open runner-up, who only played one warm-up match last week, was seen gasping and using an inhaler, and then looked close to collapse on court. After a medical timeout she played on but lost 7-5, 6-4.

“It was tough for her, she wasn’t well but I just focused on myself,” said the 61st-ranked Pegula.

Azarenka, 31, showed little rust early as she raced to a 5-2 lead before spiralling and dropping the next five games. She then struggled physically to halt her resurgence on the tour.

Last year’s US Open finalist ended 2020 playing some of her best tennis since becoming a mother in 2016, falling short to Naomi Osaka at Flushing Meadows.

Pegula will be out to dash local hopes in the second round when she faces former US Open champion Samantha Stosur or Destanee Aiava.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine was pushed hard by Cezch Marie Bouzkouva before coming through 6-3, 7-5 (7/5) and setting up an intriguing clash with 16-year-old American Coco Gauff, who beat Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka en route to last year’s round of 16 and had a straightforward 6-3, 6-2 win over Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann.


First round

Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) bt Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-0, 6-0

Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) bt Saisai Zheng (CHN) 6-3, 2-6, 6-2

Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS x29) bt Martina Trevisan (ITA) 6-3, 6-4

Anett Kontaveit (EST x21) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 7-5, 6-2

Heather Watson (GBR) bt Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3)

Shelby Rogers (USA) bt Francesca Jones (GBR) 6-4, 6-1

Olga Danilovic (SRB) bt Petra Martic (CRO x16) 7-5, 3-6, 6-4

Belinda Bencic (SUI x11) bt Lauren Davis (USA) 6-3, 4-6, 6-1

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) bt Barbora Strycova (CZE) 6-2, 6-2

Lin Zhu (CHN) bt Whitney Osuigwe (USA) 6-1, 6-1

Elise Mertens (BEL x18) bt Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 6-1, 6-3

Karolina Muchova (CZE x25) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 7-5, 6-2

Mona Barthel (GER) bt Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA) 3-6, 6-4, 6-4

Danielle Collins (USA) bt Ana Bogdan (ROU) 6-3, 6-1

Karolina Pliskova (CZE x6) bt Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-0, 6-2

Sofia Kenin (USA x4) bt Maddison Inglis (AUS) 7-5, 6-4

Kaia Kanepi (EST) bt Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) 6-3, 6-1

Nadia Podoroska (ARG) bt Christina McHale (USA) 6-4, 6-4

Donna Vekic (CRO x28) bt Wang Yafan (CHN) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

Jennifer Brady (USA x22) bt Aliona Bolsova (ESP) 6-1, 6-3

Madison Brengle (USA) bt Arina Rodionova (AUS) 6-1, 6-2

Mayar Sherif (EGY) bt Chloe Paquet (FRA) 7-5, 7-5

Kaja Juvan (SLO) bt Johanna Konta (GBR x13) 4-6, 2-0 ret

Jessica Pegula (USA) bt Victoria Azarenka (BLR x12) 7-5, 6-4

Samantha Stosur (AUS) bt Destanee Aiava (AUS) 6-4, 6-4

Nao Hibino (JPN) bt Astra Sharma (AUS) 2-6, 6-3, 7-5

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) bt Maria Sakkari (GRE x20) 6-2, 0-6, 6-3

Yulia Putintseva (KAZ x26) bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3

Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) bt Clara Burel (FRA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

Coco Gauff (USA) bt Jil Teichmann (SUI) 6-3, 6-2

Elina Svitolina (UKR x5) bt Marie Bouzkova (CZE) 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Garbine Muguruza (ESP x14) bt Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) 6-4, 6-0

Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) bt Paula Badosa (ESP) 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5

Ann Li (USA) bt Shuai Zhang (CHN x31) 6-2, 6-0

Daria Gavrilova (AUS) bt Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-1, 7-5

With AFP Inputs