Sofia Kenin knew this would be a tough test at the Australian Open, a potentially early end to her first attempt to defend her Grand Slam title.
Realizing that he would probably play veteran Kaya Kanepi in the second round, Kenin admitted that “maybe she broke a little.”
Kenin was right that he was worried. And with his best Kanepi, this one ended quickly. Delivering 10 aces, Kanepi slipped past No. 4 Kenin, defeating the 2020 champion 6-3, 6-2 in just 64 minutes on Thursday.
“Obviously I felt that I was not there 100% – physically, mentally, my game. Obviously, everything just feels real. It’s not good, “Kenin told a news conference, where he wiped away tears.
“I mean, just – I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure,” she said.
There are very few subtle things in Kanepi’s game and there are not many nuances in the way she describes her approach to this match: “I served very well today. I think that helped a lot. My game plan was to play aggressively, as I usually do. “
Yes, this almost summarizes.
This was certainly a significant disorder based on the standings: Kanepi, an Estonian, is currently 65th. And based on past accomplishments: In addition to his Melbourne Park title, Kenin reached the final of the French Open last year, while Canepi was 0-6 in the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam.
But the result made some sense.
In the end, the 35-year-old Kanepi defeated 22-year-old Kenin in their only previous match, part of why this was not a race the American was looking forward to. Plus, Kanepi was successful against some of the best on the biggest stages, with seven wins over the Top 10 opponents of Grand Slam tournaments, including against the then No. 1 Simona Halep at the 2018 US Open
And then it had a recent form.
Kenin came out of the court crying after a 6-2, 6-2 loss last week in a race to adjust to the Australian Open, and then explained that her left leg was sore. Meanwhile, Kanepi ended a winning streak of 15 games, ranked No. 7 by Arina Sabalenka last week, and entered on Thursday, winning 16 of his last 17 appearances.
With his services reaching 175 km / h, Kanepi saved all seven breakthroughs he encountered. And she finished with a 22-10 advantage.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm,” Kenin said. “Obviously I was too nervous.”
Her departure meant that three of the top nine women had already disappeared before the middle of Day 4 of a Grand Slam tournament, where routines were disrupted by the pandemic, joining No. 8 Bianca Andreescu (2019 US Open champion) and No. 9 Petra Kvitova (two-time Wimbledon winner) on the sidelines.
Serena Williams remains the last woman to successfully defend her Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2016.
Top-ranked Ash Barty managed to avoid a surprise on Thursday, but she took a big lead in the second set and survived a shaky tiebreak to pass Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6 (7).
Barty is trying to become the first Australian to win the women’s title in Melbourne after Chris O’Neill in 1978.
“It’s a different challenge every day,” Barty said. “I try to be the best I can every day, regardless of that level.”
Among the other winners were former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and American Shelby Rodgers.
Feliciano Lopez, 39, the oldest player in the men’s draw, is number 31 Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Lopez appears in his 75th consecutive singles Grand Slam race, a men’s record.
Barty lost only 10 points in the opening round, and her match against Gavrilova was equally diverted to a hesitant finish. She led 5-2 in the second set, but was punched twice, serving for the win.
In the tiebreak, Barty lost several ugly points. Gavrilova, a wild card, failed to convert two set points and made unforced errors to end the last three rallies.
The two friends then shared a hug online.
“When you play another Australian, the ranking goes out the window, the experience goes out the window,” Barty said. “You usually know each other so well. It will always be a difficult match. “
Rodgers reached the third round of the Australian Open for the first time, defeating Olga Danilovich 6-2, 6-3. The 28-year-old Rodgers entered the tournament with a record of 1-4 in her career in Melbourne, but her ranking and condition increased late.
She reached the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time last September, and her ranking at the end of the year was the best number 58 in her career. Rodgers was removed for 14 months from a knee injury received in early 2018, and her ranking at the end of this year was 780th.
She had no problems with Danilovic, a 183rd-ranked qualifier from Serbia. The small crowd on Court 3 included Novak Djokovic, who sat behind the baseline and shouted encouragingly at his Serb comrade.
Pliskova, placed sixth, advanced, defeating American Daniel Collins 7-5, 6-2. Pliskova lost a serve twice in the first set, but pulled it out and then backed off to beat Collins, a 2019 semifinalist in Melbourne Park.
Pliskova has won 65 Grand Slam matches, but is still looking for her first big title. She was Angelica Kerber’s runner-up at the 2016 US Open.