Australia's Ashleigh Barty in action during the match against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko - Reuters
MELBOURNE (Reuters): World number one Ash Barty made a stuttering start to her bid to end her country’s long wait for a homegrown Australian Open champion yesterday before calming the nerves of her compatriots with an emphatic 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory over Lesia Tsurenko.
After rain had washed out a big chunk of the day on the outer courts, it looked like Barty might serve up the dampest squib of a start to a tournament desperate for good news after a week of headlines about poor air quality.
The French Open champion had won her first WTA title on home soil at the Adelaide International on Saturday and local hopes were high that she might deliver a first Australian champion at the Grand Slam since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
She was brought crashing down to earth in the opening set, however, when Tsurenko, who won their only previous meeting in Brisbane in 2018, comfortably bridged the 119 spots that separate the two in the world rankings.
The Ukrainian, returning after an elbow injury cut short her 2019 season, gave up her own service twice but broke the top seed three times and made the most of Barty’s 19 unforced errors to stun the partisan crowd by taking the first set.
Barty, though, has made much of her ability to adjust to her opponents this season and took control of the contest, levelling up the score with a thumping ace before racing away with the deciding set.
Barty next faces Swede Rebecca Peterson or Slovenia’s Polona Hercog, whose contest was one of the many to fall victim to the torrential rain that lashed Melbourne Park for much of the day.