MELBOURNE: Serena Williams found a silver lining in the delayed start to the Australian Open, the season-opening Grand Slam tournament that is starting three weeks later than usual because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Time. Time to recover from an Achilles injury that ended her run at last year’s French Open before her second-round match. Extra time with her daughter, albeit in hotel quarantine.
The 39-year-old American, a seven-time Australian Open champion, restarted her lengthy quest for a 24th Grand Slam singles title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Daria Gavrilova on Monday in the Yarra Valley Classic, one of a slew of warm-up tournaments being played at Melbourne Park in the run-up to next week’s Australian Open.
There are six tournaments being staged this week to give players some chance at competitive tennis before the first major of the year starts next Monday.
The fifth-seeded Serena said she was pushing the limits just being fit enough to compete at Melbourne Park.
“I needed every time I don’t think I would have been here if it was during the regular season, she said. “So, whew, that was an unwanted blessing, I would say, but it was much needed for me. So I definitely took that time to recover and to just do the best that I can and so now it’s a lot better.”
Serena will next play Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in the round of 16.
Another former world number one, Karolina Pliskova, also advanced to the next round in style, firing seven aces and 30 winners in her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto.
The 30-year-old Czech next meets former Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins, who beat Nina Stojanovic 6-1, 6-2.
Also advancing were Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Misaki Doi 6-1 6-4, and Petra Martic, who downed Vera Lapko 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
GAUFF FENDS OFF TEICHMAN
Coco Gauff was up a service break in the second set and appeared to be on the verge of victory in her first-round match victory in the Gippsland Trophy before having to fend off Jil Teichmann 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-5).
Serving for a 5-2 lead in the second set, 16-year-old Gauff was broken with a double-fault and world number 57 Teichmann scrapped hard to level the match at the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park.
Gauff ramped up the pressure in the deciding tiebreak, however, to book a clash with Briton Katie Boulter in the WTA 500 event.
Third seed Elina Svitolina eased into the last 16 with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Andrea Petkovic.
Top seed Simona Halep beat Anastasia Potapova 6-4, 6-4 in the evening session to advance along with eighth-seeded Karolina Muchova and ninth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The Australian Open was delayed by three weeks to allow for Covid-19 protocols which required all people arriving in Australia to spend 14 days in quarantine.
The biggest men’s tournament is the ATP Cup team event, which starts Tuesday. The other men’s tournaments are the Great Ocean Road Open and the Murray River Open.
In addition to the Gippsland Trophy and the Yarra Valley Classic, the WTA has the Grampians Trophy. The Grampians event is a 28-draw tournament and open only to players who were forced into hard lockdown for 14 days without the benefit of practice because of positive Covid-19 cases on their charter flights to Australia.
ATP TOUR RESUMES
Jeremy Chardy beat 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10-8) in the first round of the Murray River Open as the ATP Tour resumed on Monday.
Two Americans advanced in the ATP tournament, with fifth-seeded Tommy Paul beating Cameron Norrie 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 and Mackenzie McDonald upsetting 14th-seeded Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7-2), 7-5.
Frances Tiafoe, an Australian Open quarter-finalist in 2019, lost to Corentin Moutet 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Top seeds Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov have byes into the second round.
Two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson opened the Great Ocean Road Open tournament with a 6-4, 7-5 win over 16th-seeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
Slovenian 13th seed Aljaz Bedene had a tough first-round win, beating Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5).
The biggest names in the game, including Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are playing the ATP Cup.