Swiatek passes Kenin test at Australian Open, Ruud roars

16 January 2024 - 09:17
By Reuters
Poland's Iga Swiatek in action during her first round match against Sofia Kenin of the US.
Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato Poland's Iga Swiatek in action during her first round match against Sofia Kenin of the US.

Iga Swiatek came through a testing opener in her hunt for a first Australian Open title on Tuesday as the world No 1 battled past 2020 champion Sofia Kenin 7-6(2) 6-2 in sweltering heat on Rod Laver Arena.

Four years after Swiatek won the pair's only previous meeting in the French Open final, the 22-year-old twice fought back from a break down to win the first set in a tie-break.

The four-times major champion had enjoyed a strong build-up to the year's first Grand Slam, with five successive singles wins in Poland's run to the United Cup mixed team event final, and she broke American Kenin for a 3-2 lead in the next set.

Kenin, who has battled injuries, illness and off-court issues in recent years, fought on bravely and had the opportunity to hit back, but top seed Swiatek stretched her advantage and pulled away for victory.

“It wasn't the easiest first round,” said Swiatek, who is on a 17-match winning run after triumphs in Beijing and the WTA Finals last year as well as her United Cup heroics.

“I tried to find my rhythm, play the important points well in the opening set. I felt off in terms of the timing. For sure the temperature was higher than any match I've played here and I needed to adjust as the balls were flying in these conditions.”

Up next for Swiatek is 2022 finalist Danielle Collins, who beat former champion Angelique Kerber 6-2 3-6 6-1.

“I can't say I have an easy draw here. Danielle's a good player, we've played tight matches,” Swiatek said.

“Every match is different. I'm not going to anticipate anything and I'll be ready.”

Russian 14th seed Daria Kasatkina overcame American Peyton Stearns 6-2 3-6 6-2 but she also struggled with the weather.

“It's windy and hot so it was difficult to control the ball,” said Kasatkina before looking ahead to her second-round clash with former US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

“I'm really happy with how I was able to play in the third set.”

Stephens, who reached a career-high ranking of No 3 in 2018 but has slipped to No 44, eased past local wild card Olivia Gadecki 6-3 6-1.

“Her ranking doesn't talk about her level,” Kasatkina said.

“I hope the crowd will be by my side. It will be a tough match.”

Norwegian 11th seed Casper Ruud enjoyed a more comfortable day under the midday sun as he sent Albert Ramos-Vinolas packing 6-1 6-3 6-1.

“It's -20ºC back home so it's quite a change. It's much nicer to be in the warm summer weather,” said Ruud, who lost in the second round in 2023.

“The body and tennis is feeling great. Hopefully I can have a good run down here. It's been a few in a row where I wasn't able to play as well as I hoped here. Hopefully 2024 we can turn that around.”

Czech 32nd seed Jiri Lehecka, fresh from winning his first title at the Adelaide International, continued his strong form Down Under, last year's quarter-finalist cruising to a 6-3 6-2 6-3 victory over Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles.