Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open: Ash Barty survives late scare, as defending champ bows out

Australian Open: Ash Barty survives late scare, as defending champ bows out

Ash Barty will be taking a heavily strapped thigh and can-do attitude into the third round. Photo: Getty
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It was ugly. It was far from comprehensive. But it was enough.

World number one Ash Barty has shrugged off injury concerns and a brief scare to defeat Fed Cup teammate Daria Gavrilova 6-1 7-6(7), booking her third-round ticket at the Australian Open for the fifth straight year.

However, unlike her first-round annihilation of Danka Kovinic 6-0 6-0 for the loss of 10 points, Barty only showed flashes of that form against her long-time practice partner as she struggled to close out the match.

Post-match, Barty shushed speculators who noted the heavy strapping on her left leg, suggesting it only masked some minor treatment underneath.

“This isn’t very subtle, is it,” Barty joked to long-time doubles partner Casey Dellacqua.

“There is a bit of taping going on there. It’s actually a very small tape job, we just wrap it to make sure it stays on. I can’t really hide it. I’m fit as a fiddle. I’m good to go.”

“Obviously having 12 months off [I’m] a little bit rusty, but I’m certainly happy with how I’ve been able to fight though the last couple of weeks.”

Having raced to a 6-1 5-2 lead in what was already a scrappy encounter, errors and timidity crept into the Barty game as she served for a third-round berth.

Her trademark serve –usually one of the women’s tour’s potent weapons – misfired (she would hit a total of six double faults, most coming in that crucial stint). Her topspinning forehand missed its mark.

And Gavrilova seized the moment, embarking on a run of four straight games to apply the pressure to her favoured compatriot.

Barty’s serve revived just in time as she stared down the prospect of an unfathomable third set, and raced out to an early tiebreak lead.

Some gutsy retrieval work from the wildcard Gavrilova, and more misfires off the Barty racquet provided a handful of opportunities for a decisive one-set shootout.

But some overly-eager forehands into the net gifted them straight back, with Barty closing out the match on her first opportunity, and became only the second Australian to make the third round five straight years (the only other person to do that was Mark Woodforde in 1988-92).

“I think when you play another Aussie, you play a compatriot, rankings and experience goes out the window. It’s just typically you know each other very well. Always going to be a tricky match,” Barty said of Gavrilova.

Defending champion bounced by giant killer

Sofia Kenin’s first trip back the courts of her maiden grand slam success has come to a whimpering end.

The defending champion appeared to wilt under the pressure of backing up her maiden grand slam singles title as she meekly fell to the Estonian giant-killer Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena.

Sofia Kenin had no answers for the firepower of Kanepi. Photo: Getty

The fourth-seeded American struggled to find the court for most of the match, spraying 22 unforced errors to only 10 winners over the course of the 64-minute rout.

Compared to the 22-17 winner and unforced error ratio from her lesser-ranked opponent, it was never going to be enough.

Kanepi came into the match on a fierce hot streak, winning 22 of her last 24 matches including a finals appearance at last weekend’s Gippsland Trophy.

And the probability of facing such an in-form player seemed too daunting for Kenin, who admitted in press on Tuesday that she “broke down a little bit” when hearing who her next opponent may be.

“I guess it’s the outside pressure. But, yeah, I mean, I felt really nervous. I haven’t felt my game for I don’t know how long, but I haven’t really felt my game so well, even in my first round,” Kenin said on Thursday.

“Since last year [when] I won, then obviously I feel like everyone is kind of expecting me to do that. It’s obviously tough.”

Kokkinakis nabs first set, as Popyrin falls

Thanasi Kokkinakis may be ranked 267th, but he has yet to falter playing on Rod Laver Arena – and against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, no less – showing why he was touted as Australia’s next big thing.

Thanasi Kokkinakis made an emphatic start to his clash against Tsitsipas. Photo: Getty

After facing a couple of set points down 5-4, he played toe-to-toe with the Greek sensation Tsitsipas to press the first set of their gladiatorial encounter into a tiebreak.

From there, the Australian displayed the temerity that saw him labelled alongside Nick Kyrgios as an up-and-comer, before a cruel run of injuries thwarted

Down 5-4 and with his back against the wall, the Australian reeled off an ace and a 156 km/h forehand rocket to bring up his first set point of the match.

And those imposing statements seemingly rattled his fancied opponent, as he pushed both his serves long, handing Kokkinakis the opener 7-6(5).

Meanwhile, Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin’s Melbourne Park fairytale has ended in the second round as he succumbed to the weariness of consecutive five-set marathon matches.

Popyrin, who pulled off the impossible on Tuesday when he dispatched 13th seed David Goffin after a smattering of match points, fell to the South African Lloyd Harris 6-2 1-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3.

The topsy-turvy clash swung from player to player as the match wore on, before the 91st ranked Harris strode ahead in the decider as the local hero’s leg grew heavy.

With the match just ticking over the four hour mark, Harris held firm to close it out and lock in his first-ever grand slam third round appearance.

Notable results

[7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) d Thiago Monteiro (BRA) 6-4 6-4 7-6(8)

[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) d Danielle Collins (USA) 7-5 6-2

[11] Belinda Bencic (SUI) d Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 7-5 2-6 6-4

Feliciano Lopez (ESP) d [31] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) 5-7 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4

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