Bianca Andreescu wins opening match at Australian Open in long-awaited return
Fellow Canadians Raonic, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov cruise to straight-set wins
Canada's Bianca Andreescu survived a tough first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday in her first competitive appearance in 15 months.
She defeated Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in a challenging opener at Melbourne Park.
"I feel pretty damn good," Andreescu said afterwards in an on-court interview. "I mean today's match wasn't easy at all and I'm super, super happy with how I fought it out, especially towards the end."
On the men's side, Canadians Milos Raonic, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov also won their first-round matches.
Raonic cruised to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Argentina's Federico Coria in his opening round match, while Auger-Aliassime won in straight sets as well, defeating Germany's Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. Denis Shapovalov, the No. 11 seed, beat Jannik Sinner 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in a marathon lasting nearly four hours on Margaret Court Arena.
WATCH | Felix Auger-Aliassime moves to 2nd-round play:
It meant the 21-year-old Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont. — not accustomed to being the older player on court — avoided a first-round loss at Melbourne Park for the second straight year.
That was fun 😱💪🏼🔥—@denis_shapo
Canada's Rebecca Marino won her opening-round match against Australia's Kimberly Birrell, winning 6-0, 7-6 (11-9). Montreal teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez will play Germany's Elise Merten later today.
Andreescu, 20, from Mississauga, Ont., looked like she hadn't missed a beat in a tidy opening set that lasted just half an hour.
WATCH | Andreescu prevails in 1st match since October 2019:
Buzarnescu, a former top-20 player, showed her mettle by rebounding in the second set, matching Andreescu's pace and power from the baseline.
But like she did throughout her breakout 2019 season, Andreescu seemed to find another gear in the big moments of the deciding set.
Serving at 3-3 and down three break points, Andreescu reeled off five points in a row for the hold. She followed that with a service break and then served out for the match, delivering an overhead smash on match point.
A winning return is complete 🙌<a href="https://twitter.com/Bandreescu_?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Bandreescu_</a> makes it through to the second round ❤️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AusOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AusOpen</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AO2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AO2021</a> <a href="https://t.co/Zh1Ky2hUdq">pic.twitter.com/Zh1Ky2hUdq</a>—@AustralianOpen
"I have a little bit of a feel of how it is to be in that situation," she said. "But I was super-relieved to get that game because I'm sure things would have been different afterwards [otherwise]."
Andreescu said it reminded her of a similar three-set win over Angelique Kerber in the 2019 Indian Wells final.
"I was just thinking about that and how calm I was during that match," she said. "So I was telling myself, 'Stay calm. Stay cool and just put your first serve in — because I think my first serve today was very effective — which I did."
Canada's 1st Grand Slam singles champ
A service break followed and Andreescu served out for the win, completing the victory with an overhead smash.
Andreescu will play Taiwan's Hsieh Su-Wei in the second round.
Ranked outside the top 150 prior to 2019, Andreescu won three tournaments that year and became one of the biggest stars in the sport. A win over Serena Williams at the U.S. Open made Andreescu Canada's first Grand Slam singles champion.
Seeded eighth in Melbourne, Andreescu appeared to get a favourable opening matchup in drawing the 138th-ranked Buzarnescu. But the veteran left-hander gave Andreescu all she could handle.
It was Andreescu's first match since suffering a torn left meniscus at the WTA Tour finals in October 2019. The injury hampered her in early 2020 and she declined to return when the WTA Tour resumed play after taking a break due to the pandemic.
Raonic hits 51 winners
"It's good to be efficient early on," Raonic said. "A lot goes on throughout two weeks. There could be really difficult moments. There's bound to be. So, I think to be efficient early, especially after competing just last week [at the ATP Cup], that kind of efficiency, hopefully it can pay off down the line."
WATCH | Raonic advances on Day 1 of Australian Open:
The native of Thornhill, Ont., hit 17 aces in the victory, needing just an hour and 35 minutes to defeat his first-round opponent. Raonic, ranked 14th, hit 51 winners compared to Coria's nine. The Argentinian also had 18 double faults in the loss.
Raonic next faces France's Corentin Moute and Auger-Aliassime squares off with Australia's James Duckworth.
Marino needed 23 minutes to win her first set, failing to drop a game against the 22-year-old Australian. Marino won the first seven games of the match before Birrell equalized at 1-1 in the second set.
WATCH | Marino posts straight-sets wins in tourney opener:
The Vancouver native hit 25 winners compared to just one hit by Birrell, while also hitting 10 aces.
Marino and Birrell needed a tiebreaker to decide the second set, with both players trading points until a five-shot rally gave the Canadian an 11-9 advantage.
Marino will face No. 19 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the second round.
Shapovalov took a medical time out for treatment on his left shoulder after dropping serve to surrender the fourth set, following a long and animated discussion with the chair umpire about a bathroom stop.
He returned to break Sinner's serve and held on to win after saving a breakpoint in the last game, in a three-hour 55-minute marathon on Margaret Court Arena that ended at 12:49 a.m. local time.
"Definitely today was just, I think, incredible tennis from both of us," Shapovalov said following a three-hour 55-minute match on Margaret Court Arena that finished at 12:49 a.m. local time. "Honestly, Jannik is super talented. He's such an amazing player. You know, he's a great guy, great worker. I'm sure he's going to be a very, very tough opponent in the future."
WATCH | Shapovalov outlasts Jannik Sinner in 5-set opener:
Shapovalov admitted his experience proved to be the difference.
"I was able to kind of rest the last couple of days, and he's had to play some difficult, very difficult matches — he played yesterday literally the final," Shapovalov said of the 19-year-old Sinner, competing at his fifth major. "It's definitely never easy before a Grand Slam, but for sure it was in my head and definitely gave me a little bit of confidence. You know, I did feel like I was probably the fresher guy on the court."
That situation will be reversed in the second round when he meets veteran Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic, who got an easier ride through when Yuichi Sugita retired because of injury while down a break in the third set.
Djokovic continues dominance of Chardy
Novak Djokovic extended his streak of straight-set wins over Jeremy Chardy to 14 matches as he opened his Australian Open title defence with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory in the last match on the first-day program at Rod Laver Arena.
The top-ranked Djokovic was never close to losing against the 33-year-old Chardy, maintaining a winning streak that dates back to 2009.
The 15,000-seat stadium was about one-third full. It's the biggest crowd at a major tournament in a year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed at the U.S. Open, fewer than 1,000 were allowed at the French Open and Wimbledon was cancelled.
"This is the most people I've seen on the tennis court in 12 months," said Djokovic, who has won eight Australian Open titles at Melbourne Park. "Thankyou so much. I really — I really, really appreciate your support in coming out tonight."
.<a href="https://twitter.com/DjokerNole?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DjokerNole</a>, the floor is yours 💙<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AO2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AO2021</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AusOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AusOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/SqWLhhQghQ">pic.twitter.com/SqWLhhQghQ</a>—@AustralianOpen
Serena Williams vying for 24th Slam
Serena Williams is off to a fast start at the Australian Open.
After losing the opening game, Williams won 10 games in a row and beat Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 on the first day of the tournament. The victory marked the start of Williams' latest bid for a record-tying 24th major title.
Williams took the court in a colorful one-legged catsuit, and her game looked flashy, too. She lost only nine points on her serve and hit 16 winners.
For the past four years, Williams has been trying to equal Australian Margaret Court's record for major titles. Williams' most recent Grand Slam championship came at Melbourne in 2017.
Osaka through to 2nd round
Three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has won her opening match at the Australian Open.
Osaka, who won the title in Melbourne two years ago, played the first match of the tournament in Rod Laver Arena and beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2.
The first tournament of this year's Grand Slam season began after a three-week delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Osaka drew a potential tough opening opponent in Pavlyuchenkova, a Russian ranked 39th who reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne three of the past four years. But Osaka breezed through the first set in 21 minutes and barely slowed after that.
Victorious Halep rebounds from back issue
Second-seeded Simona Halep breezed into the second round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wild-card entry Lizette Cabrera.
Halep struggled with a lower back issue in a straight-sets loss to Ekaterina Alexandrova in a warm-up tournament last week, but didn't appear to be hampered in her win over Cabrera.
The 2018 Australian Open finalist broke Cabrera's serve six times and hit 14 winners to 18 unforced errors to win in just under an hour.
Halep plays another Australian in the second round, Ajla Tomljanovic, who was a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Misaki Doi.
With files from The Associated Press