Ashleigh Barty will take on former world No 1 Serena Williams in a French Open blockbuster after storming into the second round in Paris to restore some pride to Australian tennis.
While Australia’s men were put to shame as all seven crashed out of their first round singles matchups, Barty lived up to her first-time seeding at Roland Garros with a thumping 6-3 6-1 victory over Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva on Wednesday morning (AEST).
Showing no signs of the back problem that had her in doubt for the clay-court grand slam, Australia’s 17th seed blasted past the world No.81 in just 64 minutes.
“It felt really good,” Barty said.
“I did everything possible with my team to get us in a position to be able to play today,” she added.
Barty’s reward is a centre-court crack at the most celebrated player in women’s tennis after Williams marked her much-hyped grand-slam comeback with a lung-busting 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win over dangerous Czech left-hander Kristyna Pliskova.
“I was struggling to get in a little rhythm because there was so much acing, so many aces going on,” Williams said after the match.
“But, overall, I was definitely happy with my performance and how I played today.”
The match was Williams’ first at a major since snaring her open-era record 23rd grand slam singles crown with victory over older sister Venus in last year’s Australian Open final.
The 36-year-old American was controversially overlooked for a seeding in Paris after taking time off the circuit for the birth of her first child last September and seeing her ranking slip to No.453 as a result.
The Barty-led resurgence of Australian tennis was coupled with victories from Daria Gavrilova and Samantha Stosur, who powered into the second round for the 12th straight year on Tuesday night.
After Nick Kyrgios, earlier pulled out with an elbow injury and Bernard Tomic crashed out to lucky loser Marco Trungelliti on Monday, Australia’s remaining men tumbled out overnight.
Jordan Thompson lost to Casper Ruud in a five-set thriller, young-gun Alex de Minaur went down to Britain’s Kyle Edmund in three sets, and James Duckworth was convincingly beaten by no. 3 seed Marin Cilic.
James Millman and Matthew Ebden were defeated by Denis Shapovalov and Thomas Fabbiano respectively.
Stosur overcame a two-hour rain delay and some big hitting from former US Open semi-finalist Yanina Wickmayer to see off the Belgian 6-2 6-4 in a strong start to her 14th Roland Garros campaign.
The four-time semi-finalist and 2010 runner-up clubbed 21 winners, five aces and broke Wickmayer five times to earn a second-round date with either Polona Hercog of Romania or Russian 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Gavrilova breathed a sigh of relief after staging a tense fightback to break her French Open first-round jinx.
Without a win at Roland Garros since 2015, Gavrilova was staring down the barrel of another painful premature exit at the hands of Sorana Cirstea before rallying to a 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over the feisty Romanian.
Australia’s 24th seed pulled herself together during a 45-minute rain delay.
Before that, Gavrilova appeared to be unravelling, receiving a code violation for racquet abuse after dropping serve for a fourth time to fall behind a set and 2-0.
“I battled the rain, my opponent, the nerves, so it’s pretty nice to get through. I feel a little bit relieved,” Gavrilova told AAP after booking a date with unseeded American Bernarda Pera for a place in the last 32 for the first time.
“Last time I won a round was three years ago and I actually battled an injury.
“So I feel like clay is my best surface and I did put a lot of pressure on myself and I didn’t play great.
“It’s nice to get through and I thought I was pretty tough out there mentally.”