Halep battles service demons as Muguruza makes it 10 in a row at Australian Open

US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez loses to a 133rd-ranked wild-card entry while former Melbourne Park finalist Petra Kvitova also bows out at first round

Simona Halep of Romania returns to Magdalena Frech of Poland in their first round match at the Australian Open. EPA
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Former world No 1 Simona Halep laboured into the Australian Open second round Tuesday after an error-strewn clash with Poland's Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks.

The fit-again Romanian 14th seed came into the Grand Slam full of confidence after her first title in 16 months at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month.

But she struggled to find her groove against the 102nd-ranked Pole before banking the win 6-4, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena to keep her dreams of a third major title alive.

"I found it so difficult today, I was unsure if I could play good tennis," she said.

"But in the end I won and that makes me very happy. Hopefully this week I can play better and better."

Halep, the runner-up in 2018 to Caroline Wozniacki and semi-finalist two years later, is on her way back after a truncated 2021 season when she struggled with calf and knee injuries.

And it was a far from convincing performance, with both players struggling to hold serve in the opening set, with Frech broken three times and Halep twice.

Ultimately, the Romanian was stronger in the rallies and she finally sealed the set on serve with a trademark backhand down the line.

Neither player's serve improved in the second set with Halep immediately breaking before Frech went on a three-game win streak as the error-count mounted.

Halep then reeled off five games in a row to ensure victory and a second round clash with either American qualifier Katie Volynets or Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Leylah Fernandez plays a backhand in her first round singles match against Maddison Inglis. Getty Images

Leylah Fernandez lost to a 133rd-ranked wild-card entry in her first Grand Slam match since her runner-up finish at the US Open.

The 19-year-old Canadian had an upset 6-2, 6-4 loss to Maddison Inglis in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, the third straight year she’s failed to progress to the second round at the first tennis major of the year.

Fernandez made 30 unforced errors, dropped her serve three times and hit only eight winners on 1573 Arena against Inglis, who converted her third match point to complete her very first win in the main draw of a major.

She lost in the first round at last year’s Australian Open to then defending champion Sofia Kenin.

For Fernandez, the venue and the vibe were a long way from her run to the final at Flushing Meadows, where she lost to Emma Raducanu. Raducanu was scheduled to play later Tuesday against 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Garbine Muguruza hits a return against Clara Burel. AFP

Navigating the first round at a major can be a tricky business, as two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza knows.

The third-seeded Muguruza kept a perfect streak intact when she won her first-round match at the Australian Open for the 10th straight time, beating No 77-ranked Clara Burel 6-3, 6-4 to open play on Rod Laver Arena on Day 2.

A runner-up in Australia in 2020 to Kenin — who was a first-round loser on Monday — Muguruza said she’s always extra cautious early in a big tournament.

“I am aware, I am aware,” Muguzura said, laughing, when asked if she knew her Melbourne Park streak. ”Very tricky. You’re always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign. I’ve always gone through the first round.

“Very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves.”

Third-seeded Muguruza will next play French veteran Alize Cornet, who beat Viktoriya Tomova 6-3, 6-3.

Anett Kontaveit hits a return against Katerina Siniakova. AFP

Sixth-seeded Anett Kontaveit, runner-up to Muguruza at least year’s WTA Finals, had a 6-2, 6-3 win over Katerina Siniakova. Seventh-seeded Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, opened with a 6-3, 6-0 win over 123rd-ranked British qualifier Harriet Dart.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova lost to Sorana Cirstea of Romania for the second straight year, this time 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.

“Yeah, I think that she likes my game, that she just is going for it," Kvitova, an Australian Open finalist three years ago, said. "I did have some health issues the whole month, as well, so it was tough to practice during home month.

"But the season is long, so I hope that it will turn around.”

Also advancing were No. 19 Elise Mertens, who beat Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 7-5, and former US Open champion Sam Stosur, who rallied to beat Robin Anderson of the US 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 to start her 20th Australian Open campaign.

Updated: January 18, 2022, 6:48 AM