Naomi Osaka overcame nerves and a second set wobble to get her 2022 season off to a winning start on Tuesday having not played a competitive match for four months.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka called time on her 2021 season after losing in the third round of the US Open at the start of September, admitting in a tearful press conference that she was "dealing with some stuff" emotionally. It came after the Japanese star had taken a six-week mid-season hiatus following her withdrawal from the French Open to focus on her mental health.
Osaka, 24, had since mostly laid low before flying into Melbourne last week to prepare for her Australian Open title defence. She took the first step towards that goal at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament, but was nowhere near her best in beating France's 61st-ranked veteran Alize Cornet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena.
"It always feels really good to come back here," world No 13 Osaka said in her on-court interview. "It feels really nice to play in front of people."
Osaka looked to be cruising after taking the opening set 6-4 and racing to a 3-1 lead in the second, but lost focus as the 31-year-old Cornet won five straight games to level the match.
Osaka pulled herself together to score an early break in the third set and never relinquished it. She made several mistakes in a rusty first competitive outing for four months, and admitted nerves played a part.
"I feel like I made a lot of unforced errors, but I kind of expected that because it is my first match and I was really nervous," she said. "I'm just so glad I was able to hold my serve in that last game."
The win set up a last-16 clash with Belgium's Maryna Zanevska, who defeated Croatia's Petra Martic in her opening match.
While it was a victorious return to the tour for Osaka, fellow multi Grand Slam champion Andy Murray was defeated in his first match of the season.
Murray defeated by Bagnis
In the men's ATP 250 event at the same venue, former world No 1 Murray suffered a setback in his preparation for the Australian Open as Argentine Facundo Bagnis claimed a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory in the Round of 32.
"To beat him is amazing, I'm really happy. I enjoyed every point in the match," world No 76 Bagnis said.
Five-time Australian Open finalist Murray, down to 134 in the world rankings after layoffs due to hip surgery, has accepted a wildcard to the main draw of the year's first major, which begins on January 17.
But the 34-year-old Briton will need to find a much higher level if he is to enjoy another deep run at the Melbourne Park major.
After an evenly-poised first set, Murray dropped serve at the worst possible time, handing Bagnis a 5-3 lead before the Argentine served out the opener.
The three-time Grand Slam champion took charge of the second set by moving ahead 4-1 and could have had a second break to lead 5-2, only to squander two chances. Bagnis made Murray pay by breaking back and levelling the set at 4-4, but it was then the Argentine's turn to wobble at a crucial moment and his double fault at set point allowed Murray to take the match into the decider.
However, it was Bagnis who found another gear in the third set, breaking Murray for a 3-2 lead and again when the former world No 1 was serving to stay in the match.
Australia's Nick Kyrgios was scheduled to play in the same event but withdrew shortly before his first round match against Slovakian Alex Molcan due to asthma.
Kyrgios, 26, only played 15 matches in 2021 and had been recovering from a knee injury since the end of September. With his ranking now down at No 93, he required a wildcard for the Melbourne tournament, but will instead make his return at the Sydney Classic next week, where he has also been given an invitation.