Ashleigh Barty breathed a big sigh of relief after surviving a scare and progressing to the second round of the US Open in New York. Australia’s world No.2 had to pull out all the stops before battling past dogged Kazakh Zarina Diyas 1-6 6-3 6-2 on day one.
Barty used her trusty trademark serve to drag herself out of a deep hole and set up a date on Wednesday with unseeded American Lauren Davis.
“I just had to start with my serve,” the French Open champion said after finishing with eight aces in the three-set escape. “I really wasn’t giving myself enough chances on serve. I don’t know what the percentage was in the first set … but it wasn’t good.”
Opening tournament proceedings on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Barty made a terrible start, falling behind 5-0 in 20 minutes after struggling to find her rhythm. After 19 unforced errors, Australia’s big title hope found herself down a set inside half an hour.
A furious Barty emerged a different player in the second set, bludgeoning a succession of winners to work her way back into the contest. It took her eight games, though, to break down Diyas, ranked 77th in the world. But once she did Barty sealed the second set with a signature ace down the middle to get back on level terms.
She gained two more breaks in the third set to advance after a tough one-hour, 42-minute work-out.
“Zarina was able to put it in difficult positions even off my slice,” Barty said. “It was about trying to do it regularly and put her under pressure.”
Despite the shaky start, the 23-year-old said it was a thrill to return to Arthur Ashe Stadium following her breakthrough doubles triumph last year with CoCo Vandeweghe.
“It was a bit bizarre. We walked out here on practice the other day and some good memories came floating back,” Barty said. “We are really pleased with the way we were able to solve this riddle today, figure it out and progress to the second round.”
Alex de Minaur also moved into the second round with a 6-4 6-2 6-7 (6-8) 7-5 win over Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in four sets. But fellow Australians Samantha Stosur, Daria Gavrilova and Priscilla Hon all fell at the first hurdle. Champion in 2011, 35-year-old Stosur needed a wildcard into her 15th Open and bombed out 6-1 6-3 against Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Gavrilova, who continues to battle a foot injury, ended the 2019 grand slam season without a win following a 6-3 6-4 loss to Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro. Hon, a lucky loser from qualifying, had to settle for a $US58,000 ($A85,500) pay day after succumbing 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to Russian Margarita Gasparyan.
John Millman, Jordan Thompson, Alexei Popyrin, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Ajla Tomljanovic and Astra Sharma all open their campaigns on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST).
Meanwhile Nick Kyrgios is already lighting up social media ahead of his first round match after hitting back at criticisms from Jim Courier and Martina Navratilova.
The Tennis Channel tweeted “You never know what to expect when it comes to @NickKyrgios. Will he boom or bust this tournament??” accompanied by footage of former world No.1s Courier and Navratilova discussing Kyrgios’s prospects at the last grand slam of the year.
Courier and Navratilova both addressed Kyrgios’s conduct, after he was fined $US113,000 (USA167,000) this month for his extraordinary meltdown in Cincinnati, where he branded chair umpire Fergus Murphy a “f****ng tool” and a “potato”.
But Kyrgios made it clear he had no time for the pundits’ opinions.
Kyrgios will open his campaign at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday night against American Steve Johnson.