Kenin pulls through; Azarenka crashes

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

Kenin edged through 7-5, 6-4 against Australian Maddison Inglis, who is ranked outside the top 100, and vented her frustration verbally throughout a tetchy first round.

Sofia Kenin of the US hits a return against Australia’s Maddison Inglis during their women’s singles match on Day 2 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. AFP

 

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

The 22-year-old won her maiden 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.

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.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine was pushed hard by Cezch Marie Bouzkouva before coming through 6-3, 7-5 (7/5).

Red-hot Rublev

In the men’s draw, red-hot Russian seventh seed Andrey Rublev continued his unbeaten start to the year with a straight-sets win over German Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on John Cain Arena.

“I was really happy I could control the match almost from the beginning,” said the 23-year-old, who blasted 17 aces.

Rublev claimed a tour-leading five ATP titles last year and won four straight matches to help Russia win the ATP Cup last week, putting him in the conversation for a maiden Grand Slam crown.

Rafael Nadal’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam starts later, with fitness concerns hanging over the Spaniard.

The 34-year-old faces 56th-ranked Laslo Djere after back trouble ruled him out of last week’s ATP Cup.

Nadal raised the alarm on Sunday when he said he’d been “suffering” with the injury for more than two weeks.

Nadal is currently tied with the absent Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles.

Women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty will open the night session on Rod Laver Arena as she aims to become the first Australian women’s champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Barty, fresh from winning the Yarra Valley Classic final against Muguruza on Sunday, plays Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic.

Among the men’s contenders, fourth seed Daniil Medvedev plays Vasek Pospisil of Canada, and fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas faces France’s Gilles Simon.

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