Belinda Bencic shocked Venus Williams in the most expected first round clash at 2018 Australian Open. The Swiss completed a 63 75 win and collected her 12th top 10 victory, the first since defeating No.2 Kerber in Fed Cup play in 2016. For the first time since 1997, Australian Open doesn't feature Serena or Venus Williams in the second round. It was not the only upset of the day as Kaia Kanepi stunned 2014 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova 62 62. The Estonian, playing better and better after her return, will face Puig or Stosur.
Venus Williams came to her 77th career Grand Slam main draw at the Australian Open, the most in the Open Era, having played just once since reaching the WTA Finals decider in October (when she lost to Caroline Wozniacki). She conceded the first break to 4-3 as she netted a loose backhand from the centre of the court.
Bencic has won 31 of 35 matches across all levels including Hopman Cup for Switzerland where she partnered Roger Federer, whose parents, Robert and Lynette, were spotted in her Player's Box. The Swiss saved three break points in a row in the ensuing game, then erased another couple of chances to Venus, able to hit a superb backhand winner of her own. Bencic’s serve came to her rescue before the downpour came down.
At the restart, under the roof, Bencic served her 3rd ace and placed a perfect backhand winner down the line to hold to 5-3. The Swiss attacked Venus's backhand and broke to love to convert his first set point and win her first set against the oldest player in the draw, holding a 18-0 record against Swiss opponents on hardcourt.
Venus, ranking second all-time behind her sister Serena (91), tied with Davenport (69) in Australian Open main draw matches played, started strongly in the second set and broke in the opening game as Bencic sent long. On the fourth occasion, Bencic managed to break back, but she couldn't maintain that level and lost her serve again in the third game as Venus set up a 2-1 lead with a ferocious forehand winner.
But Bencic showed her resilience levelling at 2-2 and then holding, for the first time in the set. Venus tried to remain in the match but Bencic had more energies and sealed her first win in five tries. Her smile after the 10th win in a Grand Slam first round told everything.
Sloane Stephens produced the first shock of the tournament. She looked to be on course for an easy win over China's Zhang Shuai, breezing through the first set, she went to serve for the match at 5-4 in the second but ultimately extended her 8-match losing streak since the Us Open triumph as she lost 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena.
The Chinese made her Grand Slam breakthrough at Australian Open
in 2016, reaching the quarterfinals as a qualifier (defeating No.2 Halep and No. 17 Keys en route, losing to Konta). She relived that good vibrations in a perfect second set tiebreak (7-2), the 24th she has won in a WTA main draw match.
Stephens, who served for the match at 5-4 in the second, said Zhang Shuai is her "favorite person on the tour. She's really a great girl". But despite those honeyed words, the Chinese immediately broke to open the decider. The American multiplied pressure and unforced errors until she had to surrender to her third straight first round exit at Australian Open (in 2015 2016 and 2018, after missing all of last year’s Australian swing due to foot surgery).
Zhang completed her 13th top 20 win, including two in 2017, at Doha
(d. No.7 Muguruza) and New Haven (d. No.13 Kvitova). “[Margaret Court Arena] is really special for me,” Zhang said in her on-court interview. “When I came back here to warm up I was feeling so excited. So I think I was ready today…. I always play against great players on this court. I was very happy to play against Sloane".
Jelena Ostapenko took the first win of her season as she beat the former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, in one of her last Grand Slam matches, 61 64 delivering 28 winners to Schiavone's 4.
Ostapenko clinched her 70th main draw win in her career, closing the match with a down the line backhand into the open court, and sealed a berth in a second round clash against Ying-ying Duan, the first winner of the 2018 Australian Open, who routed Mariana Duque-Marino 60 61 in 51 minutes.
Schiavone, playing her 69th Slam, saved a break point in her first service game and made Ostapenko work to hold to 2-1 after missing two chances to break.
The Italian tried to slow down the pace of the rallies, not to offer many easy balls to attack to the hard-hitter Latvian. The Roland Garros champion, however, neutralized Schiavone's strategies and soon built a comfortable 5-1 lead before sealing the first set with an ace down the T.
Playing her first Grand Slam and third tournament overall with new coach, Australian David Taylor, their working partnership began
in December 2017, Ostapenko cruised to the second round, one win away from her best previous result here.
Schiavone paid the biggest gap in ages in the first round matches at this year’s Australian Open (17 years). She was already ranked No.734 the day Ostapenko was born and owns, among players in this year’s field, the fourth most Grand Slam match wins (105-67 record) behind V.Williams, Sharapova and
A.Radwanska (eighth among all active players).
Her top-spin forehands bouncing higher than usual forced Ostapenko to mis-hit her trademark down-the-line flat backhands. The Italian wroke havoc showing recurring to a sneak attack in return and breaking to 3-1 when Ostapenko committed a crucial double fault.
Currently ranked at a career-high No.7, seeded in the Top 8 for the first time at a Slam, Ostapenko got herself back completing a break to love to 3-4 that she sealed with a forehand winning return.
Penalised by a seventh double fault, Schiavone gifted her opponent a second consecutive break that gave Ostapenko the chance to serve for the match.
Julia Goerges started her tenth consecutive Australian Open campaign with a 243th career main draw win as she beat 64 64 Sofia Kenin. to move
Kenin showed encouraging glimpses of her defensive qualities in the opening set. Goerges took a crucial break at 4-3 and used her serve and forehands to serve out the first set 6-4. The German served 71% of first serves in, collecting 88% of points, and drilled 16 winners in 10 games to 9 unforced errors, mostly with her risky forehands, while Kenin 3 winners to 7 errors.
In her 40th Grand Slam main draw appearance, Goerges improved to 22-18 her win-loss record in Grand Slam first round matches avoiding the third defeat against a player ranked outside Top 100 since 2017 after losing to No.171 Tomova (Bastad) and No.151 Stephens (Cincinnati). Playing on a career-high ranking of No.12 gave Kenin, the third youngest teenager who made the draw as a direct entrant, her third defeat in three matches against a Top 20 opponent: she previously lost to No.11 Ka.Pliskova (2016 US Open) and No.3 Wozniacki (2018 Auckland).
The Russian-born American, spotted from the first time by Ana Kournikova, missed two break points at 2-1, as Goerges made the difference with a couple of massive serves. Goerges, one of seven Germans in the draw, broke to 3-2. Winning more than half of the rallies ended in less than 5 shots, Goerges maintained a firm control. Kenin saved two consecutive match points on serve, then won the best point of the match attacking the German forehand to move 4-5. But Goerges put the 34th winner of her match to seal her 15h straight win and move to a second round against Alize Cornet who defeated Wang and bids to clinch the first win over the German in six meetings.
Magdalena Rybarikova offered a massive performance as well. The Slovak beatsTownsend 6-0 7-5. She mixed up the play well, never really allowed Townsend to dominate. She plays Kirsten Flipkens who last week pulled out of a second round match in Hobart with a shoulder injury telling opponent Alison Riske all about her problem, and in Melbourne beat the same Riske in the debut match.