Swiatek up and running at Australian Open as Alcaraz makes bow

Polish world number one came through 7-6 (7/2), 6-2 against former Australian Open champion Kenin

AFP January 16, 2024


Iga Swiatek survived a tough test against former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin to reach the second round in Melbourne on Tuesday as Carlos Alcaraz prepared to make his bow.

The Polish world number one came through 7-6 (7/2), 6-2 against the player she beat to win her first Grand Slam title, at the French Open in 2020.

In-form Swiatek, 22, twice came back from a break down in a gruelling first set lasting 68 minutes but stepped on the gas in the second set, winning the final five games to finish with a flourish.

The four-time major winner, now on a 17-match winning streak, next faces unseeded American Danielle Collins, who beat former winner Angelique Kerber 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

"It wasn't the easiest first round. She played really well. I tried to find my rhythm, especially in the first set," said the world number one, who owns three Roland Garros crowns and another at the US Open.

"I'm happy at the end of the set I could win the most important points."

There was also a first-round win for former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who brushed aside Australian wildcard Olivia Gadecki 6-3, 6-1.

And American 27th seed Emma Navarro, fresh from her Hobart triumph, saw off China's Wang Xiyu.

On the men's side, 11th seed Casper Ruud beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, while Britain's Cameron Norrie, seeded 19th, eased past Peru's Juan Pablo Varillas in straight sets.

Veteran Grigor Dimitrov, who ended a six-year title drought in Brisbane this month, recovered from a rocky start to get the better of Marton Fucsovics in four sets.

Wimbledon champion Alcaraz, who is vying with Novak Djokovic for the coveted number one spot, is the main draw in the evening session in Melbourne.

The Spaniard, 20, edged the Serbian great in a thrilling final at the All England Club last year to win his second major.

Since that meeting at Wimbledon, world number one Djokovic, a 10-time winner in Melbourne, has come out on top twice against his young opponent, including at the ATP Finals in November.

But Alcaraz, who missed last year's Australian Open with a hamstring injury, is undaunted as he prepares for his first match against veteran Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

He said the challenge of toppling Djokovic -- king of Rod Laver Arena -- gave him "extra motivation".

"I always want to play against the best players in the world to see what my level is," he said. "Obviously it's a good test, playing against him in the places or in the tournament that he's almost unbeaten.

"Yeah, I am looking to reach the final and hopefully playing a final against him. It would be great, obviously."

Last year's beaten women's finalist Elena Rybakina, fresh from winning the Brisbane International, takes on former world number one Karolina Pliskova.

Emma Raducanu, who faces America's Shelby Rogers, is an unknown quantity after an eight-month layoff.

The British player stunned the tennis world when she triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2021 as a qualifier but only on one other occasion has she reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

However, she is confident she can recover her best form after a frustrating period.

"I think my level, to be honest, is just too good not to come through if I put consistent work together," she said.


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