MELBOURNE—Isn’t it impossible to play two matches consecutively? But that’s pretty much what happened for first-seeded Ashleigh Barty Monday evening in her 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 first-round win over 120th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko.
Begin with a tip of the hat to a sharp and deceptive Tsurenko. Last year in Brisbane, she reached the final, a run highlighted by a win over future Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka. Two years ago there, she’d beaten Barty 6-3, 6-2 in their only prior match. But as Tsurenko noted tonight, “The level of her confidence is [now] so much higher.”
Ranked a career-high No. 23 last February, Tsurenko is an exemplary gutty problem-solver. If not quite possessed with the dental-like precision of Roger Federer, Tsurenko certainly has an aptitude for extracting errors. Said Barty, “She's an incredibly tough opponent. She moves very well. . . . She's a great ball striker and is able to manipulate you around the court a lot.”
Striking a mere five winners in the first set, Tsurenko was concurrently the beneficiary of 19 unforced errors from Barty, a testimony to Tsurenko’s ability to plug away, stay in rallies and capitalize on the Australian’s inability to assert herself with much vigor. Serving at 5-5 in the first set, Barty failed to get in a first serve on the first three points, made two unforced errors and swiftly went down love-40. She would save the first two break points but on the third missed a makeable forehand. In the next game, from deuce, two more unforced errors from the Barty forehand closed out the first set.
Then the second match started. Dropping just three points in the first three games of the second set, Barty raced ahead 3-0. It was clear at this point that Tsurenko suffered from the classic counterpuncher malaise: an ability to cut, but not kill. In the last two sets, Tsurenko struck a measly four winners, including just one in the third.
Once Barty found focus, everything rapidly became a formality, the match starting to resemble a compensated public practice session. According to Tsurenko, Barty’s shots began to be “unexpected, unpredictable.” Said Barty, “In the first set, it was a little bit too much in her patterns for my liking. I was able to kind of transition that into more of where I was controlling the court and the ball a little bit better in the second and third set.”
There went the second set, 6-1. In the third, Barty sprinted to a 4-0 lead and at 1-5 broke Tsurenko at love. Over the last two sets, Barty only made 11 unforced errors. Said Tsurenko, “She raised her level.” The first set had lasted 44 minutes. The next two went by in a swift 52.
Glad to have fought off a tricky opponent, Barty said, “I was pressing a little bit early. Made a few too many errors. Was able to tighten the screws in the second set and run away with it. Yes, it was disappointing to not start as well as I would have liked. 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.”