Ashleigh Barty, Alex de Minaur advance at Australian Open as locals shine in Melbourne
Ashleigh Barty and Alex de Minaur have shown no ill effects following their short turnaround from the Sydney International by collecting first-round triumphs at the Australian Open.
- Ashleigh Barty and Alex de Minaur were playing just two days after contesting the Sydney International finals
- Barty is the highest-ranked Australian in the main draw of the Open
- De Minaur may face Rafael Nadal in the third round should they both advance
Barty, who was runner-up in the Sydney final on Saturday night, weathered on early storm from Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum before winning 6-2, 6-2 in the night session on Margaret Court Arena.
De Minaur, playing less than 48 hours after winning his maiden ATP Tour title in Sydney, had earlier thrilled his home Australian crowd on the same court with a solid 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win over Portugal’s Pedro Sousa.
The results continued an inspiring showing for the local contingent, with a trio of young Australians on debut — Astra Sharma, Zoe Hives and Kimberly Birrell — having kicked off proceedings earlier on day one.
Barty is Australia’s highest ranked player in the world at 15 on the WTA rankings and she again illustrated the growing maturity that has helped propelled her to the cusp of the top 10.
Kumkhum had started in a blaze to break Barty early for a 2-0, but the Australian refused to panic and instead reeled out seven straight games, including four breaks of serve, to win the opening set and lead 1-0 early in the second.
Her command at the net and the quality of her volleys was evident throughout the second set, which she won to chalk up a victory in just 57 minutes.
“It took me a little to get used to conditions out here,” Barty said.
“But I feel like I am hitting the ball well and certainly happy to come through in pretty straightforward fashion.”
De Minaur backs up for opening win
Alex De Minaur followed up his Sydney International triumph with progression to the Australian Open second round. (AP: Kin Cheung)
De Minaur had arrived in Melbourne on a high note emotionally in the wake of his breakthrough win, although his Sydney campaign proved physically taxing after he was forced to play his semi-final and final on the same day as a result of inclement weather late in the tournament.
The 19-year-old had given Australian Open organisers a spray because of the scheduling of his match in Melbourne on Monday, claiming they were “punishing” local players like himself and Ashleigh Barty, who went deep in the draw in Sydney.
He also had to contend with stifling hot conditions in Melbourne, with the mercury reaching 34 degrees as he and Sousa took to the court.
“I am very happy with my performance. I thought that I had to be really tough today,” de Minaur said.
“To back it up from Sydney, I am proud that I was able to get it done in three sets.”
De Minaur, who entered the Open at a career-high ranking of 29, claimed a single break of serve in the opening set to gain the early ascendancy against Sousa.
Games went on serve in the second, with both players feeling the heat, before de Minaur broke at 6-5 before serving out the set.
Sousa was immediately on the back foot in the third set when de Minaur claimed a double break to leap out to a 3-0 lead but to the credit of the Portuguese world number 103 he broke back and then held serve to trail 3-2.
De Minaur, the 2018 ATP newcomer of the year, still had a break of serve up his sleeve and it proved enough security for him to finish off his opponent in just under two hours.
He will face Henri Laaksonen in the second round, with a potential third-round meeting with world number two Rafael Nadal on the horizon.
Nadal, who beat Australian wildcard James Duckworth in the opening round, will next face another of the local brigade, Matt Ebden, who downed German Jan-Lennard Struff 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Jordan Thompson also made the last 64 after beating veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, and John Millman came through in four sets to defeat Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.
Aussie youngsters shine on day one
Sharma prevailed against countrywoman Priscilla Ho 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 in an enthralling contest on the outside courts lasting two hours and nine minutes.
The 23-year-old Sharma, ranked 232 in the world, came through qualifying last week to earn her spot in the main draw and she took advantage of Ho’s struggles in the heat during the third set to advance to the second round.
She more than doubled her prize money courtesy of the win over the wildcard Ho, earning $85,000, and it is just reward after she took a punt on a US college scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville after sustaining a broken ankle early in her career.
“I wasn’t doing too well in the pro circuit and ended up going to Vandy and definitely the coaches there took me under their wing and developed me for a good four, five years,” Sharma said.
“I came out and absolutely wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t go.”
Both Hives and Birrell were granted wildcards to the main draw and they repaid the faith shown by tournament organisers with impressive straight-sets victories.
The 225th-ranked Hives, a Ballarat native, hammered seasoned American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 6-2, while the Germany-born Birrell triumphed 6-4, 6-2 against Paula Badosa Gibert.
But there was mixed news elsewhere for the Australians, with wildcards Jason Kubler, Marc Polmans and Ellen Perez losing in the opening round of the respective men’s and women’s draws, while James Duckworth fell to Nadal.