A "calmer" Garbine Muguruza made a fine start at the Australian Open, while defending champion Sofia Kenin was left annoyed despite her victory.

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's good form in Melbourne continued with a rampant 6-4 6-0 victory over Margarita Gasparyan in the first round on Tuesday.

Muguruza was runner-up at Melbourne Park last year, with the two-time grand slam winner looking for her first major success since 2017.

The Spanish star, who will face Ludmilla Samsonova in the second round, said she was reaping the benefits of a changed approach.

"I was for sure working very hard, and frustrated that the results weren't there for quite a few months. Sometimes you work hard, you want it so much, that doesn't help you," Muguruza said.

"It's hard to explain, but I felt like for a moment I was working hard, I was putting all the effort out there. The time that I had to go and compete, I wanted it too much. I was getting frustrated too early. At the end I couldn't let the racquet talk.

"I feel like now, after that experience, I managed to stay a little bit calmer and to just go and compete, probably have less expectations. I'm always, like, there and always so pumped. I'm just knowing myself a little bit better now, finding ways to compete and not let that energy and that desire, too much desire, get in the way probably."

It was a relatively good day for the top women's seeds, with Kenin – who conquered Muguruza in last year's final – winning through.

Ash Barty, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic also advanced, while Victoria Azarenka's poor recent record in Melbourne continued.

KENIN ANNOYED DESPITE WIN

Kenin started her title defence with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Australian Maddison Inglis.

But while the American fourth seed mixed 23 winners with 27 unforced errors, Kenin said she felt her nerves as she defends a major crown for the first time.

"I was obviously quite annoyed the whole match. I felt like the first two points I started off well, then wasn't able to close out the first game. Obviously nerves happen," she said.

"She obviously played really well. She's a tricky opponent, tricky player. Yeah, it was quite hard on myself today, quite annoyed, as you said."

Kenin's next clash is a tough encounter against Kaia Kanepi, who brushed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-1.

BARTY, SVITOLINA AND PLISKOVA AMONG WINNERS

Barty made a spectacular start with a 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Danka Kovinic.

The world number one won the first 16 points and ended up losing just 10 for the match in an impressive start.

A two-time quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, Svitolina was tested but overcame Marie Bouzkova 6-3 7-6 (7-5) on Rod Laver Arena.

A huge challenge awaits Svitolina, who will next face Coco Gauff after the 16-year-old American beat Jil Teichmann 6-3 6-2.

Czech sixth seed Pliskova made quick work of Jasmine Paolini, wrapping up a 6-0 6-2 victory in just 47 minutes.

Bencic and Anett Kontaveit were among the other seeded winners.

NO EXCUSES FOR AZARENKA

A two-time Australian Open champion, Azarenka suffered a surprise 7-5 6-4 loss to Jessica Pegula in the first round.

The Belarusian's last win at the event came in 2016, having made first-round exits in 2019 and 2021 and missed the tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Azarenka was among the players forced to quarantine ahead of the major and while she said it played a part in her exit, she offered no excuses.

"Of course, it has impacted. Somebody who's coming out of hard quarantine and maybe has been able to adjust well, they'll go, 'Oh, maybe it hasn't impacted'. Somebody who lost early will say, 'Yeah, of course, it's impacted'. It would be hard to say," she said.

"Was that the best preparation for me? No. But try to sit here and find an excuse because of quarantine and this is just something that, as I said, it is what it is.

"I am disappointed that I wasn't able to perform that I knew I could. That's a bit hard to accept today because I knew I can play better, a lot better. At the same time I feel that I've tried everything I can to be able to be prepared, but unfortunately that hasn't worked out for me."

Greek 20th seed Maria Sakkari also bowed out after a loss to Kristina Mladenovic, while British 13th seed Johanna Konta retired injured while leading Kaja Juvan 6-4 0-2.

World number one Ash Barty ended her Australian Open preparations with a title after defeating Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic final.

Barty – gearing up for the year's first grand slam which gets underway in Melbourne on Monday – defeated sixth seed and 2020 Australian Open runner-up Muguruza 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 on Sunday.

Looking to add to her 2019 French Open crown, Australian star Barty claimed her ninth WTA Tour trophy and second on home soil.

"It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week," Barty, who had not played in a competitive tournament since last February, told reporters in her post-match news conference.

"Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final."

Barty added: "Overall it was a pretty solid performance. I'm still my harshest critic at times. That's the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Elise Mertens clinched the Gippsland Trophy with a 6-4 6-1 win over Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Mertens – the seventh-seeded Belgian – returned to the winner's circle following two runner-up finishes in 2020.

As for Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, they shared the Grampians Trophy on Sunday.

The Grampians Trophy did not have a final, the WTA announced, due to time running out before the Australian Open begins. Thursday's play was cancelled as a precautionary measure after a case of coronavirus involving a worker from a hotel that had housed quarantining tennis stars.

Kontaveit outlasted fifth seed Maria Sakkari 2-6 6-3 11-9 in the first semi-final, while Li upset seventh seed Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 10-6.

Garbine Muguruza continued her impressive form to book a meeting with Ash Barty in the Yarra Valley Classic final.

Muguruza, the Spanish sixth seed at the WTA 500 event, crushed Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-0 on Saturday.

The two-time grand slam champion has lost just 10 games in four matches on her way to the final.

Muguruza lost just eight points on serve against Vondrousova while converting five of 11 break points.

She will meet Barty in the final after the Australian benefited from Serena Williams' withdrawal as the 23-time grand slam winner deals with a shoulder injury.

Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka also withdrew on Saturday from the Gippsland Trophy and Grampians Trophy respectively.

At the Grampians Trophy, Anett Kontaveit was given a passage into the semi-finals, where Maria Sakkari awaits after her 6-4 6-2 win over Angelique Kerber.

Jennifer Brady and Ann Li will meet in the other semi after wins over Barbora Krejcikova and Sorana Cirstea respectively.

Elise Mertens will play the Gippsland Trophy final after Osaka's withdrawal with the Belgian to face Kaia Kanepi, who overcame Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3 7-6 (8-6) to reach her first WTA decider since 2013.

Aryna Sabalenka will face Veronika Kudermetova in the Abu Dhabi Women's Tennis Open after extending her magnificent career-best winning run with a straight-sets victory over Maria Sakkari.

Sabalenka ended 2020 in red hot form and has carried on where she left off at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre to stand on the brink of claiming a third successive title.

The fourth seed from Belarus has now won 14 consecutive matches following a commanding 6-3 6-2 success over Sakkari on Tuesday.

Sabalenka reached the 13th WTA singles final of her career at the age of only 22, taking just 57 minutes to see the back of ninth seed Sakkari.

The world number 10 struck 22 winners, eight of which were aces, and made only eight unforced errors, while winning 83 per cent of points on her first serve and will be one to watch at the Australian Open next month.

Kudermetova will be playing in her maiden WTA singles final following a 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 victory over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.

Russian Kudermetova came from a break down in the first set and was behind in the tie-break, but dug deep to edge in front in a battle between two unseeded semi-finalists.

The world number 46 broke Kostyuk three times in the second set to secure her spot in the championship match, in which she will have to improve on a first-serve percentage of just 46.5.

The top two seeds are both out at the Abu Dhabi Women's Tennis Open after Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina suffered quarter-final defeats on Monday.  

Kenin had won the two previous meetings against Maria Sakkari and appeared on course to retain her 100 per cent record when cruising through the opening set.  

However, Sakkari hit back to stun the top seed, dropping just two more games as she rallied in emphatic fashion to triumph 2-6 6-2 6-0 after one hour and 23 minutes on court.  

"I think I did way too many errors and I was hitting too big when I didn't have to. But I'm glad that once again I found the way to turn the match around," the ninth seed told reporters.

Next up for Sakkari will be Aryna Sabalenka, who extended her impressive winning run to 13 matches after coming through a three-set tussle with Elena Rybakina.  

The fourth seed has not lost since going out at the 2020 French Open to Ons Jabeur - a result she avenged when the pair met on Sunday in the last eight in Abu Dhabi.  

In the other half of the draw, Veronika Kudermetova once again got the better of Svitolina, ending the second seed’s hopes of success in the tournament. 

Russian Kudermetova – who won their only previous meeting on the WTA Tour – came out on top in the deciding tie-break to triumph 5-7 6-3 7-6 (7-3).  

She will take on another player from Ukraine next, Marta Kostyuk overcoming a nightmare opening set to beat Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo 0-6 6-1 6-4 and reach the last four.

Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina fought back from the brink of defeat as both reached the Abu Dhabi Women's Tennis Open quarter-finals on Sunday.

Top seed Kenin fended off a match point in the second set before battling to a 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 victory over Yulia Putintseva at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre.

Putintseva was serving for a straight-sets win at 6-5 up in the second, but the tenacious Kenin forced a tie-break and rallied from 3-1 down to take the third-round match the distance.

The Australian Open champion secured three breaks in the decider to reach the last eight, hitting 35 winners to 25 from 13th seed Putintseva to set up a showdown with Maria Sakkari.

Svitolina, the second seed, was also on the verge of crashing out, but she hung in there to pull off a 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (10-8) win over Ekaterina Alexandrova.

The world number five was a break down in the final set and saved two match points in a tense tie-break before finally seeing the back of her Russian opponent.

Ninth seed Sakkari beat two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza 7-5 6-4 to give herself the opportunity to get the better of Kenin for the first time in three attempts.

Aryna Sabalenka stretched her impressive winning streak to 12 matches with a 6-2 6-4 success over Ons Jabeur, while Marta Kostyuk, Sara Sorribes Tormo, Elena Rybakina and Veronika Kudermetova also progressed.

Victoria Azarenka revealed the secret of her career resurgence as she set up an all-Belarusian final against Aryna Sabalenka at the Ostrava Open.

A 6-1 6-3 victory against Greek player Maria Sakkari carried Azarenka through to Sunday's title match, with Sabalenka later landing a 6-4 6-4 win over American Jennifer Brady.

The remarkable rebirth of Azarenka as a serious force to be reckoned with on the WTA Tour has coincided with tennis emerging from lockdown in August.

After landing the Western and Southern Open title in New York in August, Azarenka followed up with a run to the US Open final, and now she has reached the 40th final of her career.

The former world number one had been considering retirement before this recent run, having not won a tournament since 2016, but Azarenka has brilliantly recaptured the form that took her to a pair of grand slam titles, both in Australia, earlier in her career.

She was dominant throughout against Sakkari, a player who looks to be on the brink of achieving great things herself. Sakkari beat top seed Elena Svitolina in the second round but could not live with Azarenka's power and precision.

Azarenka said afterwards that she had developed "strong assurance in my ability", explaining: "What I'm really happy with is that I play every point like it's my last point, and I think that makes a difference for my opponent."

She added, quoted on the WTA website: "I think I'm making it very hard for them to earn anything on the court, and that's what I’m going to continue to do."

Chasing a 22nd WTA title on Sunday, the 31-year-old Azarenka will be facing a compatriot she has only played against twice on tour before, both times at the US Open.

Sabalenka, nine years her junior, beat Azarenka in a three-set first-round battle at Flushing Meadows last year, but it was a different story at the 2020 grand slam.

That second-round match emphatically went the way of Azarenka, a 6-1 6-3 winner, with fifth seed Sabalenka an early victim as Azarenka marched through the draw.

Victoria Azarenka moved a step closer to a second post-lockdown WTA title as she brushed aside Elise Mertens to reach the Ostrava Open semi-finals.

The Belarusian seized on four of six break-point opportunities to win 6-4 6-1, following up her victory over the same opponent at the same stage of the US Open in September.

In New York, Mertens surprisingly won only one game as Azarenka produced a performance that overwhelmed the 24-year-old, and although Friday's clash was a more close-fought affair in the first set, eventually it became a rout.

Azarenka said afterwards: "I feel she adjusted her game a bit from New York, so it took me a bit of time to adapt to that."

She added, on the WTA website: "Today I didn't expect the same result, but I did feel like I was really in control after I adjusted my game - I felt I made it very difficult for her to earn points."

Former world number one Azarenka finished runner-up to Naomi Osaka at the US Open but took the title at the Western and Southern Open event, also held at Flushing Meadows, in the run-up to the slam.

The WTA season only resumed in August, having been halted in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greek player Maria Sakkari, who took a set off Serena Williams at the US Open, scored an impressive 3-6 6-3 6-1 victory over Tunisian Ons Jabeur and will face Azarenka next.

American Jennifer Brady, another who made her mark in New York by reaching a maiden grand slam semi-final, dug deep to see off impressive Russian qualifier Veronika Kudermetova in three sets.

Kudermetova, who beat second seed Karolina Pliskova in the second round this week, could not build on a strong start to the quarter-final tussle as she exited 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-1.

Brady will face Aryna Sabalenka in Saturday's last-four matches after she defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0 4-6 6-0.

Maria Sakkari claimed the scalp of top seed Elina Svitolina to reach the quarter-finals of the Ostrava Open on Wednesday.

Sakkari beat world number five Svitolina 6-3 6-3 to progress to the last eight of a WTA Premier event for the third time this season.

Unseeded Greek Sakkari struck 32 winners and returned superbly, winning all but eight of 29 points on Svitolina's second serve.

The 23rd-ranked Sakkari will face either wildcard Jelana Ostapenko or Ons Jabeur for a place in the semi-finals.

Ostapenko knocked out fifth seed Petra Martic, the 2017 French Open champion easing to a 6-3 6-1 victory.

Martic had won their previous two meetings, but the Croatian was beaten in just 57 minutes at the indoor hard-court event. 

Anett Kontaveit was another seed to fall, Sara Sorribes Tormo reaching a maiden Premier-level quarter-final at the expense of the Estonian with a 6-1 6-4 success.

Victoria Azarenka is also two wins away from the final, coming from a set down to see off Barbora Krejcikova 2-6 6-2 6-1, and will now face Karolina Muchova or Elise Mertens, who got past Amanda Anisimova in straight sets.

Anett Kontaveit came back from a double break down in the deciding set to edge past Ekaterina Alexandrova 4-6 6-2 7-6 (8-6) at the Ostrava Open on Monday. 

Kontaveit, seeded eighth, was made to work hard for victory by her Russian opponent, who had opened a 5-2 lead in the third set before being pegged back for a deciding tie-break. 

Estonian Kontaveit saved two match points in the breaker, ultimately prevailing in two hours and 14 minutes to set up a second-round clash with Sara Sorribes Tormo after her 6-1 6-3 victory over Magda Linette. 

"I was so close to being out, so I just tried to stay in the match," Kontaveit said. "I never really gave up. I tried to be a little more aggressive when I was down. I felt maybe I'd taken a little bit off my shots.

"She was really getting on top of me so I felt I had to push back, and sometimes when you take those risks they pay off. 

"I think it was more adrenaline and instinct, especially at the end of the third. I was behind so badly that I was just trying to stay in it. I thought it was important that I never gave anything to her, she had to earn it to go in front." 

Elsewhere, Maria Sakkari set up a second-round meeting with number one seed Elina Svitolina after a 6-3 6-3 win over Kristyna Pliskova, while Barbora Krejcikova beat Tereza Martincova 7-5 6-1.

Simona Halep is playing free of pressure despite becoming an even stronger favourite to win the French Open in the first week of the tournament.

The 2018 champion arrived at Roland Garros rated as the most likely victor, a status that has been enhanced by three comfortable wins along with the exit of second seed Karolina Pliskova and the withdrawal of Serena Williams due to injury.

The latest of Halep's comfortable victories - her 17th consecutive in a row on the WTA Tour - came as she thrashed Amanda Anisimova 6-0 6-1 in just 54 minutes on Friday, avenging her quarter-final defeat to the American last year.

Next she faces Iga Swiatek in round four, a player she beat comprehensively at the same stage in 2019, but despite increasingly being tipped to go all the way, the Romanian feels no extra strain.

"No, I don't [feel more responsibility] and I don't feel the pressure," she said when asked about the huge expectations on her and Rafael Nadal, the favourite in the men's singles.

"Of course I expect from myself to play good tennis, because I feel good, I feel the game, I feel fit, I feel stronger on my body. 

"But doesn't mean I have to win every match. Important thing for me is just to deliver what I have best in the day that I play, and then we'll see. 

"I'm not thinking about the result. I just want to try to take my chance every time I step on the court, and I'm not thinking about title. It's very far, and many players are playing really well in the draw. So no expectations about that."

Swiatek booked the fourth-round clash with Halep by winning 6-2 6-3 against Eugenie Bouchard.

 

HOME HOPE GARCIA BEATS MERTENS IN THRILLER

Sixteenth seed Elise Mertens looked like she was on course for the fourth round until she was beaten by a superb comeback from Caroline Garcia.

Garcia delighted French fans on Court Philippe-Chatrier, hitting 38 winners to triumph 1-6 6-4 7-5.

"It was a great feeling out there - especially the match was a big fight in the second and third sets," said Garcia.

"So to be able to live this kind of moment... first of all, because we didn't know what was going to happen, so to be able to play French Open it's a great feeling - and to have some crowd to be able to share it with, it's even more special.

"Especially as they were really cheering for me. And I think Elise lived the moment like me."

 

SVITOLINA AND BERTENS CRUISE THROUGH, SAKKARI STUNNED

Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens needed just the two sets to seal their places in round four.

Third seed Svitolina will face Garcia after she overcame Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4 7-5 on Court Suzanne-Lenglen as she eyes a maiden grand slam title.

Svitolina won despite hitting just eight winners to 30 unforced errors, while Alexandrova had 25 winners and 49 unforced errors across two scrappy sets for both players.

Bertens, the fifth seed, sent Katerina Siniakova packing 6-2 6-2 Court Philippe-Chatrier, but Maria Sakkari failed to make it into the second week.

The 159th-ranked Martina Trevisan caused an upset by ousting Sakkari, saving two match points before winning 1-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-3.

Victoria Azarenka joined Serena Williams in the US Open quarter-finals as Sofia Kenin crashed out on Monday.

Azarenka was pushed before the two-time Australian Open winner booked her spot in the last eight at Flushing Meadows.

Williams was also challenged before reaching the quarter-finals and her bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title remains on track.

But there was no such luck for this year's Australian Open champion as Kenin bowed out.

 

AZARENKA BATTLES THROUGH AS KENIN FALLS

Azarenka reached the US Open quarter-finals for the first time since 2015 after overcoming Czech 20th seed Karolina Muchova 5-7 6-1 6-4.

Muchova was on top early before Azarenka steadied to advance in two and a half hours.

The Belarusian, twice a US Open runner-up, was eventually too good for Muchova, who battled a leg injury late in the last-16 clash.

Azarenka won the Western & Southern Open ahead of the US Open, showing some good form since the WTA Tour season restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She will next face Elise Mertens after the Belgian 16th seed proved far too good for Kenin – the second seed – 6-3 6-3 in just 75 minutes.

Mertens hit 19 winners and just seven unforced errors against Kenin, whose best run at her home slam came to an end.

The win saw Mertens reach the quarters for the second straight year.

 

SERENA SURVIVES SCARE

Williams came through a tough battle with Maria Sakkari, winning 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 after two hours, 28 minutes.

The American star looked set to endure more frustration in her quest to level Margaret Court's record when she trailed Sakkari by a break in the third set.

Sakkari came from a set down to defeat Williams at the Western & Southern Open.

However, she could not hold on to her advantage in the decisive set as Williams produced a response befitting her status as a 23-time major champion.

"Just felt like I was able to compete longer. I was a little fatigued last time and had some cramps, but I felt like Maria played a completely, I felt like she almost played better today. She's such a good competitor," Williams said.

"It was a really intense match."

 

PIRONKOVA'S FAIRYTALE RUN CONTINUES

Awaiting Williams in the quarter-finals is Tsvetana Pironkova, whose run continued with a 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 victory over Alize Cornet.

A former Wimbledon semi-finalist, Pironkova is back playing for the first time since 2017.

The Bulgarian has put together an impressive run in New York, where she had only reached the fourth round once previously – in 2012.

Naomi Osaka overcame Anett Kontaveit to reach her first Western & Southern Open semi-final, while Maria Sakkari's memorable run came to an end.

Japanese star Osaka rallied past Kontaveit in three sets at the WTA Premier tournament in New York, where the event is being held instead of Cincinnati amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sakkari, who conquered 23-time grand slam champion, Serena Williams, in the last 16, bowed out in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

 

OSAKA OUTLASTS KONTAVEIT

Two-time grand slam champion Osaka was made to work for her 4-6 6-2 7-5 victory over 12th seed Kontaveit.

After dropping the opening set, fourth seed Osaka regrouped – reeling off nine successive games and hitting 29 winners to earn a semi-final showdown against Elise Mertens.

It is Osaka's second semi-final of the year following her final-four run at the Brisbane International prior to January's Australian Open.

Mertens – the 14th seed – awaits following her routine 6-1 6-3 victory over American qualifier Jessica Pegula.

 

SAKKARI SENT PACKING

After claiming the scalps of Coco Gauff and former world number one Williams, 13th seed Sakkari suffered a 6-4 6-3 loss to Johanna Konta.

Sakkari was unable to continue her fine run ahead of the US Open as British eighth seed Konta reached her second Premier semi-final thanks to 18 winners, four aces and three breaks of serve.

AZARENKA ROLLS ON

A two-time Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka is next up for Konta after the 2013 Cincinnati winner edged Ons Jabeur 7-6 (11-9) 6-2.

Azarenka emerged victorious in one hour, 44 minutes as the resurgent Belarusian moved into the Western & Southern Open semis for the first time in seven years.

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