Monday, 15 January 2018 06:47 AM GMT
Australian Open: Red-hot Bencic stuns Venus

Bencic back in the big time

During the darker moments of her injury layoff, Belinda Bencic will have surely wondered whether she could recapture her past form, whether she could revisit the level that saw her breach the world’s top 10.

On the first day of the Australian Open, Bencic was not just back to her best but beyond it, operating on a higher plane as she recorded a mightily impressive 6-3, 7-5 victory over 2017 finalist and No.5 seed Venus Williams. 

The encounter had been billed as the match of the first round, and Bencic, who missed five months of last season after undergoing wrist surgery in May, lived up to the hype. With Roger Federer’s parents watching on from her box, the Swiss youngster delivered a masterclass in front-foot tennis, moving and serving better than ever before as she hit 32 winners to just 12 unforced errors.

The 20-year-old had never taken so much as a set off Williams in their previous four meetings, but swung freely and confidently throughout the opener, breaking the Williams serve at 3-3. Even a rain delay could not throw Bencic off her stride, despite it arriving at 4-3 and deuce on her serve, with the Swiss having just fended off five break back points.

On resumption under the roof, Bencic upped the ante even further, winning all of the next six points to take the first set.

Williams rallied in the second as the pair traded four consecutive breaks, but the 37-year-old American could not withstand Bencic’s constant attacking, and she broke through in the 12th game, producing two sublime forehand winners in a row to seal a famous victory.

“It was amazing, this match. I think the level was great. Also, you know, she beat me four times before, so I was really happy, took my chance this time,” said Bencic, who revealed that her compatriot Federer had offered up some pre-match advice.

"He said just to stay point for point focused, to enjoy it,” she said.

“Not to be worried about the sun. Today was raining, but normally the sun is right in your eyes in that time. About that, as well. He has experience on that court.”

With Serena Williams unable to defend her title, the result means neither Williams sister is in the second round of the Australian Open for the first time since 1997 - before Bencic was even born.

“I didn’t play a bad match,” said Williams. “She just played above and beyond.”

Edmund flies the flag

Kyle Edmund remains the only Briton in the men's draw after twice recovering from a set down to beat 2017 US Open finalist and No.11 seed Kevin Anderson 6-7(4), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

A thunderous contest between two of the game’s heaviest hitters, the tone was set by an early, 23-shot rally that indicated there would be little to split the two men.

Indeed, the final point tally was 155-154 in Edmund’s favour, but this was a much-deserved victory for the world No.49, who reversed his five-set defeat to the same opponent at Roland Garros last year.

After a close first set went Anderson’s way on a tie-break, the next three were decided by a solitary break of serve. The fifth and deciding set was, just like the preceding four, an extremely tight affair, with Edmund rallying from 0-2 down to restore parity.

As both players strained for victory, Edmund was forced to call for the trainer to treat his right shoulder. However, the 23-year-old maintained his composure to break again before closing out arguably the best win of his career.

“It was great to win at the end like that. You know, so many positive reasons," said Edmund. "Just getting through a tough match like that."

"Just happy, you know, going down a set, coming back. Just overall thought, you know, personal satisfaction, the hours you put in, training, et cetera, so many things like that. Those type of results make it, you know, just really feel good, worth it basically. So really happy.

American exits

At the start of the day session, 13 Americans harboured hopes of a second round berth here in Melbourne, three of whom had reached the US Open semi-finals last year.

By approximately 7.30pm, only two remained. Among the fallen were No.13 seed Sloane Stephens, who lost 6-2, 6-7(2), 2-6 to Zhang Shuai to extend her losing run to eight matches in a row, No.10 seed CoCo Vandeweghe, No.8 seed Jack Sock and No.16 seed John Isner.

Ryan Harrison, Nicole Gibbs and Mackenzie MacDonald were the only Americans to taste success in the first day session, with the former triumphing over Dudi Sela in five sets.

Around the Grounds

- Jelena Ostapenko emerged victorious in the battle of the French Open champions, beating Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-4 to reach the second round.

Breakthrough seasons like Ostapenko’s 2017 have historically been hard to replicate, but the Latvian looked at ease with the expectation that will surround her this campaign, controlling proceedings in the first set and recovering from 4-1 down in the second.

- Julia Goerges extended her winning run to 15 with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Sofia Kenin. The No.12 seed hasn’t lost a match since October 2017, in which time she has claimed three titles - could a fourth be in the offing here in Melbourne?

- Grigor Dimitrov made light work of qualifier Dennis Novak, advancing to the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 win.

- Andrey Rublev triumphed in the battle of age v experience against David Ferrer, with the 20-year-old winning 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-2 despite failing to convert two match points in the fourth set. Elsewhere, Denis Shapovalov triumphed in straight sets over his Next Gen counterpart Stefanos Tsitsipas.

- Sam Stosur fell in the first round to Monica Puig, losing 6-4, 6-7(6) 4-6 despite holding a match point.

Shot of the Day

The best piece of skill belonged to Pierre Hugues-Herbert, who produced this tweener lob against Denis Istomin...

Tweet of the Day

It was hard not to feel for a certain Andy Murray this morning...