After having to come back from a set down against Lesia Tsurenko, top seed Ashleigh Barty faces another tough veteran in the form of Polona Hercog.
Ashleigh Barty vs Polona Hercog is live from Melbourne on Wednesday 22 January at 1pm local/2am GMT
Home favourite Barty gave the Rod Laver Arena crowd a bit of a scare on the first day of the Australian Open as she dropped the first set to Tsurenko before coming back to win in three, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
It was not a great match from either player: Barty, who had a quick turnaround to make from Adelaide and the Premier-level tournament she won there on Saturday to the very different conditions in Melbourne, struggled to find her range on her forehand in the first set.
Nineteen of the 30 unforced errors she made in the match came in that set while Tsurenko, who had won their only previous encounter in straight sets, played a surprisingly confident and forthright set given that she had only played one match since shutting down her 2019 season in July due to an elbow injury.
Barty lifted her game from the beginning of the second set, radically reducing her unforced errors, but a factor in the turnaround was also the fact that Tsurenko really went downhill, starting to show all the after-effects of a long layoff from competition and committing flurries of mistakes.
All in all Barty did well to come through in three, but it wasn’t an emphatic start to her quest to become Australia’s first singles champion in Melbourne since 1978.
‘It was disappointing to not start as well as I would have liked. I was frustrated that I wasn’t hitting the ball in the court when I wanted to. I think I was aiming for big targets and missing by quite a bit, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Being able to kind of rectify that and fix that so quickly at the start of the second set was really important.
‘All in all, I think it was really nice to be able to tighten the screws, run away with it in the second and third.’
Barty is now on a five-match winning streak in 2020, since losing her first match of the season to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane, and the 2019 quarterfinalist will try to get off to a quicker and less error-strewn start against Polona Hercog in the second round.
Slovenia’s Hercog was ranked as high as world no. 35 in 2011 but her career has been decimated by injury. She missed large chunks of the 2013 and 2014 season, and was absent from August 2016 to May 2017, her ranking dropping outside the top 200 as a result.
Since she returned, however, Hercog has been playing some of her best tennis, breaking back into the top 100 in 2018 and then the top 50 after a 2019 season which saw her win a WTA Tour title in Lugano and go 34-26 throughout the year, including third-round appearances at the French Open, Wimbledon, Eastbourne and Beijing.
Currently ranked world no. 48, Hercog’s first-round victory over Rebecca Peterson was just her third Australian Open win in ten previous appearances, but it was a good win over a player who won two titles in 2019.
Barty and Hercog have never played, but the Slovenian has a very poor record against top-10 players, having won just one of 30 previous matches against them (against Marion Bartoli in 2012). She did, however, get close on a couple of occasions in 2019, most notably against Sloane Stephens at the French Open and Simona Halep in Miami, and is a great ballstriker who can be a handful particularly when she plays aggressively, possessed of a good slice backhand. Barty must be on her toes and cannot afford a slow start; unless she plays much better than she did against Tsurenko, she will be dragged to a third set once more.