Australian Open 2020: Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova through, misery for Maria Sharapova

By Sports Desk January 21, 2020

Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova came through their first-round matches at the Australian Open, as Maria Sharapova suffered an early exit in the women's singles.

Fourth seed Halep was handed a testing opener against Jennifer Brady, who had beaten Ash Barty at the Brisbane International this month.

But the Romanian prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 in one hour and 36 minutes to join home hope Barty, defending champion Naomi Osaka and tournament favourite Serena Williams in round two.

An up-and-down first set was crucial, as Halep twice recovered from a break down and saved three set points while Brady was serving at 6-5.

Halep found a way to force a tie-break and then edged it 7-5 before running away with the contest in the second set.

Wimbledon champion Halep also had to overcome a first-set fall that required the trainer to check on her wrist and joked she had also stumbled in her first match of the 2018 tournament, when she made it all the way to the final.

"In 2018 it was the same, probably I can repeat that!" said Halep.

"I don't know why in the first round always I fall down. Maybe it's a good sign but it's too far to think about that.

"My wrist is pretty painful. I need to chill and recover for the second round."

Second seed Pliskova earned a 6-1 7-5 victory over Kristina Mladenovic, losing serve just once in the 87-minute battle. The Czech faces Laura Siegemund next, while Halep will take on Harriet Dart.


TOP 10 ALL THROUGH AS SHARAPOVA'S WOES CONTINUE

Sharapova suffered her third consecutive loss in the first round of a grand slam following a 6-3 6-4 defeat against 19th seed Donna Vekic as the former world number one hit 31 unforced errors.

A first-round casualty at Wimbledon and the US Open, Sharapova - who has been struggling for form and fitness - crashed out in the first round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2010.

Sixth seed Belinda Bencic won 6-3 7-5 against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, while Madison Keys was a 6-3 6-1 victor against Daria Kasatkina, as all of the top 10 seeds moved safely into round two.

Elina Svitolina claimed a 6-4 7-5 victory in her match against Katie Boulter, while former grand slam champions Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza were winners against Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Shelby Rogers respectively. Muguruza won by an unusual 0-6 6-1 6-0 scoreline.


KONTA AND VONDROUSOVA BOW OUT

Johanna Konta, Marketa Vondrousova, Amanda Anisimova and Anastasija Sevastova were the seeds to fall on day two.

An Australian Open semi-finalist in 2016, British 12th seed Konta suffered a 6-4 6-2 loss to Ons Jabeur.

On the comeback trail following a tendinitis-related problem in her right knee, which forced her to withdraw from Brisbane and Adelaide, Konta was only making her second appearance since losing in the US Open quarter-finals last year.

Konta said: "Ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am. How I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September. Before Brisbane I had been out for almost four-and-a-half months."

Czech Vondrousova, the 15th seed and French Open finalist last year, lost in three sets to Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Another rising star fell as 18-year-old American Anisimova lost out in a final set to Zarina Diyas, while home hope Ajla Tomljanovic emphatically accounted for Sevastova with a 6-1 6-1 triumph to book a round-two meeting with Muguruza.

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    Nadal was a class above for much of the contest, cleverly pulling the Serbian this way and that, and the world number two does not think he could be doing much better.

    "I played I think a very positive level of tennis. Of course it needs to keep improving," Nadal said. "I need to keep working on a couple of things that are not coming automatically, but I can't ask for more.

    "[It was] another great evening for me against another good opponent. Can't complain at all. Much better [than] what I expected.

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    Earlier in the day, world number one Djokovic felt he was "pushed to the limit" by fellow Serbian Filip Krajinovic as he won 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 to reach the last eight in the tournament for a 14th successive year.

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    Tournament favourite Halep eventually looked comfortable in her 7-5 6-4 against Dayana Yastremska, but the Romanian had to fight back from a break down in the opening set as she was put on the back foot.

    Halep slid 3-0 down in the opener, but she produced an admirable response when winning 12 of the following 13 points as she levelled up.

    Another break from 5-5 allowed Halep to take charge, and from there she rarely looked in trouble, remaining in the ascendancy early in the second as she went 3-0 up, ultimately seeing out the win professionally despite Yastremska giving herself a chance with a break of her own.

    "It was not easy against her because you don't really have the rhythm. She hits it very strong and it's tough to return her balls," Halep said, highlighting the need to get her head straight after the early wobble.

    "After I lost the first three games, I just had to focus a little bit better and stop giving her the balls that she likes.

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    Awaiting Halep is a meeting with Yulia Putintseva, who fought back from a set down against fellow Russia-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina to edge an absorbing contest 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

    Second seed and defending champion Pliskova came through fairly comfortably against Anna Blinkova 6-4 6-3, with the Czech next going up against Elise Mertens, who saw off Danka Kovinic in similarly routine fashion with a 6-4 6-4 victory.

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