MELBOURNE, Australia -- After seven minutes of play on opening night at the Australian Open, world No. 1 Ash Barty trailed two games to love and had already committed an uncharacteristic six unforced errors.
It was a tentative start to her home Grand Slam, but the Queenslander -- spurred on by a vocal Rod Laver Arena crowd -- was able to compose herself and overcome world No. 120 Lesia Tsurenko in three sets. It turned out to be a nerve settling win.
On Wednesday afternoon, Barty returned to centre court to face Slovenia's Polona Hercog in the second round. This time, after seven minutes, it was Barty who had pocketed the two-games-to-love lead without striking a single unforced error.
Just 18 minutes later and the first set was hers. Barty had clinched it 6-1, winning almost double the points of Hercog (29-15), with only five unforced errors coming from her racket during the entirety of the first set.
This was the Ash who had taken the tennis world by storm in 2019 and the player thousands of locals had flocked to Melbourne Park to watch. Hercog refused to go away in the second set, noticeably lifting her intensity and groundstroke speed.
The world No. 48 made Barty work much harder for a break point opportunity. But in the ninth game of the set Barty was offered one. She seized the opportunity, edging ahead 5-4, before successfully serving for the match to wrap up the contest in a little over an hour.
"Another clean match today and I'm really happy to get out of that one," Barty said in her on-court interview. "It was very different end to end. The wind played a massive factor and Polona has the power to blow you off the court. It was just about me making as many balls as I could.
"It's nice playing in front of a full crowd and to play on this beautiful court. Thank you very much."
Barty, the first Australian to book a ticket in the third round, will now face 29th seed Elena Rybakina -- whom she has never faced before -- with a place in the last 16 up for grabs.