Venus Williams was one game away from being ousted from the Australian Open’s first round on Tuesday before coming all the way back to eliminate 25th-seeded Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-2.
Williams needed more than two and a half hours to pull out the victory and avoid what would have been her fourth opening-round loss in her past six appearances in Melbourne.
This is the first time in five years that Williams is not seeded at a Grand Slam tournament. She is a seven-time major champion and a two-time runner-up in Australia but is currently ranked only 36th.
Williams trailed by a set and a break at 5-3 in the second when Buzarnescu served for the match. Williams broke at love there, was better in the second tiebreaker, then surged ahead quickly in the final set with a break to lead by 2-0.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka’s return to the Australian Open for the first time since 2016 ended in a first-round loss to Laura Siegemund.
Azarenka, who won back-to-back Australian Open titles 2012 and ’13, lost 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 to the No. 110-ranked Siegemund.
The first set was delicately poised in the tiebreaker when Azarenka took control, but Siegemund said she “took time out and I reset myself” in the break and regained control of the match. She broke the 29-year-old Azarenka’s serve seven times, including three times in the last set.
The former No. 1-ranked Azarenka took time out of the game after birth of her son, Leo, in December 2016 and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2017 but did not play any further tournaments in the season after taking time out again for personal reasons.
After skipping last year’s Australian Open, she steadily improved at the majors after a first-round exit at the French Open, a second-round loss at Wimbledon and a third-round appearance at the U.S. Open and moved to to No. 53 in the rankings.
Her win at Flushing Meadows last year as a 20-year-old made her the youngest U.S. Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2006.
Osaka’s next opponent will be Tamara Zidansek, who beat Daria Gavrilova, 7-5, 6-3, earlier Tuesday.
Simona Halep climbed out of a deficit of a set and a break to avoid becoming the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in the Australian Open’s first round in 40 years.
Halep reeled off the last four games, and 13 of the final 15 points, to come back and beat Kaia Kanepi, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2.
Kanepi received treatment from a trainer for a blister on her left ring finger in the third set.
Kanepi had beaten Halep at the U.S. Open in September, only the sixth time in the professional era that a woman seeded No. 1 exited a Grand Slam tournament in the opening round.
Novak Djokovic opened his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title and his 15th Grand Slam singles championship with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over an American qualifier, Mitchell Krueger.
Djokovic had a worry-free win, breaking his opponent in the fifth game of the third set to help ensure he would finish the match in a tidy 2 hours, 3 minutes.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic received the luck of the draw when both of his top rivals, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and third-seeded and defending champion Roger Federer, were placed in the other side. That means Djokovic could not face either Nadal or Federer until the final on Jan. 27.
Djokovic’s highest-ranked opponent in his half of the draw is No. 4 Alexander Zverev, who also won Tuesday.
Milos Raonic hit 30 aces and never faced a break point to beat local hope Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in a first-round match at Melbourne Park.
It was the seventh meeting between the pair and the first since 2016, and Raonic has now taken a 4-3 advantage. Their first three meetings were all in majors, with Raonic winning at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2014 and Kyrgios at Wimbledon in 2015.
Raonic next plays former champion Stan Wawrinka, who advanced when his opponent Ernests Gulbis retired in the second set of their match with a back injury.
By The Associated Press