Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina started the first major tennis tournament of the year with tough first-round opponents. However, they rose to the challenge and their performances only solidified their status as top contenders.
Swiatek started her challenging journey towards a potential Australian Open victory by defeating Sofia Kenin, the winner of the 2020 tournament, with a score of 7-6 (2), 6-2. Meanwhile, Rybakina narrowly beat Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (6), 6-4 to advance to the second round.
The previous encounter between Swiatek and Kenin occurred during the 2020 French Open, where Swiatek was competing in her first grand slam final. Kenin, who had won the Australian Open earlier that year, went on to be named the WTA player of the year due to her two major final appearances in the same season.
The past two years have brought significant changes for Kenin. She dropped out of the top 400 but has since made a comeback and is now in the top 40. Despite not having high expectations and feeling pressure as the No 1 player, Kenin played an impressive match, showcasing her skills and reminding everyone of her abilities. She was quick to hit the ball, effortlessly changed directions on both sides, and maintained strong shots that put pressure on Swiatek.
Although the American was the first to break serve and performed exceptionally well in the beginning of the match, Swiatek stepped up her game confidently during crucial moments. Finishing strong, Swiatek dominated the tie-break with her clean and fearless attacking style of tennis. Up next for Swiatek is a tough opponent, Danielle Collins, who defeated her in the 2022 final. Despite a tough 2023 season for Collins, she possesses the characteristics of a flat-hitting and relentless ball-striker, which typically gives her an advantage against Swiatek.
Rybakina saw the challenge of playing against a former top-ranked player as an opportunity to showcase her sharp skills. Despite losing her first service game, she displayed strong serving and a solid performance throughout the match.
Rybakina stated that the match was challenging, as she had lost in the final last year to Aryna Sabalenka. She acknowledged that facing Karolina is always difficult, given her powerful serves. She noted that Karolina’s first serve percentage was high, making it tough, especially during the tie-break. However, she was pleased to have won the first set and found the second set to be slightly easier. Overall, she considers it a good victory, particularly for the first round.