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Defending champion Kenin dodges early exit

by The Associated Press | February 9, 2021 at 2:07 a.m.
United States' Sofia Kenin makes a forehand return to Australia's Maddison Inglis during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Sofia Kenin struggled in her first match as a defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament.

The 22-year-old from Florida struggled with jitters at the Australian Open. She struggled with her shots, and struggled against an opponent who's never won a tour-level match.

Kenin, though, knows all that really matters: Who can claim the final point. Eventually, she managed to do just that this morning at Melbourne Park, setting aside an early deficit and beating 133rd-ranked Australian wild-card entry Maddison Inglis 7-5, 6-4.

"I'm obviously not too happy with the way I played," Kenin said with a chuckle, "but a win is a win."

Inglis is still searching for one: She fell to 0-6 for her career.

Still, boosted by a crowd of locals at Rod Laver Arena, she did not make things easy on Kenin, who avoided becoming the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2003 to lose in the first round at the Australian Open a year after winning the championship.

"First round, it's obviously nerves for me," said Kenin, who followed up her first major title last year by reaching the final at the French Open.

The woman Kenin defeated for the title in Melbourne, two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, also advanced to the second round, defeating Margarita Gasparyan of Russia 6-4, 6-0.

But Victoria Azarenka, a two-time title winner at the Australian Open and the runner-up at last year's U.S. Open, appeared to have trouble breathing and received medical attention in the second set of a 7-5, 6-4 loss to Jessica Pegula of the U.S.

Azarenka didn't want to discuss her health afterward, but she did note how difficult it was to prepare for a major tournament after being one of 72 players who were in a hard quarantine for two weeks -- not allowed to leave their hotel rooms for any reason -- after potentially being exposed to covid-19 on her flight to Australia.

"The biggest impact for me personally has been not being able to have fresh air," the 12th-seeded Azarenka said. "That really took a toll."

Another player, Paula Badosa, lost in the first round after going through a three-week isolation because she tested positive for covid-19.

The 23-year-old from Spain, who is ranked 70th, served for the match but dropped the last four games and was beaten 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-5 across more than 2 1/2 hours by Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova.

"It was tough for me to recover," Badosa said.

In other early results on Day 2, 17-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam match since Thanasi Kokkinakis was one day younger at the 2014 Australian Open.

And an even younger player, 16-year-old Coco Gauff, won 6-3, 6-2 against Jil Teichmann to set up a second-round showdown against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina.

Alcaraz eliminated Botic Van de Zandschulp, a 25-year-old from the Netherlands who is ranked 151st, by a score of 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

A seeded woman exited the tournament when Ann Li, a 20-year-old American, defeated No. 31 Zhang Shuai 6-2, 6-0 in just 47 minutes to improve to 5-0 this season.

Li is ranked 69th and competing in only her third career Grand Slam tournament.

For Kenin, her issues in the early going resulted in an early break that led to her falling behind 3-1. Even after she got that back, how close was the opening set?

They players split the first 52 total points, each grabbing 26. They split the first 10 total winners, each producing five.

But Kenin came through at crunch time.

In the second set, she went up an early break before finding herself even at 3-all, 30-all.

A net-cord backhand gave Kenin a break point that was converted when Inglis pushed a groundstroke long.

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts during her match against United States' Jessica Pegula in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts during her match against United States' Jessica Pegula in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
United States' Coco Gauff makes a forehand return to Switzerland's Jil Teichmann during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
United States' Coco Gauff makes a forehand return to Switzerland's Jil Teichmann during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
Russia's Margarita Gasparyan makes a backhand return during her first round match against Spain's Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Russia's Margarita Gasparyan makes a backhand return during her first round match against Spain's Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
United States' Lauren Davis reaches to catch the ball as she serves to Switzerland's Belinda Bencic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
United States' Lauren Davis reaches to catch the ball as she serves to Switzerland's Belinda Bencic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Spain's Paula Badosa makes a backhand return to Russia's Liudmila Samsonova during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Spain's Paula Badosa makes a backhand return to Russia's Liudmila Samsonova during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates a point win over Botic Van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates a point win over Botic Van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
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