Sports, Tennis

Sinner makes bright start, Krejcikova battles back in Australian Open

Published : 14 Jan 2024 09:36 PM

Fourth seed Jannik Sinner fired up his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title with a hard-fought straight-sets victory over Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp at the Australian Open on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Italian enjoyed a breakthrough 2023, winning his first Masters title, in Toronto, and making the championship match against Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals.

It sparked expectations that it is only a matter of time before he wins a major and he came through a tough encounter at Melbourne Park to open his 2024 account, beating the 59th-ranked Dutchman 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

It was Sinner's first competitive match of the year after he opted against a warm-up tournament but he showed few signs of rust, breaking Van de Zandschulp's opening service game and powering through the first set in 46 minutes.

But the Dutchman, a former US Open quarter-finalist, refused to go quietly, hitting the ball so hard in the second set that his racquet strings snapped.

There was little between them as they battled to 5-5 before Van de Zandschulp netted a backhand to give the Italian the crucial break and he served out for a two-set lead.

Once again, the Dutchman put up resistance in the third, breaking for a 2-0 advantage.

But it was a temporary wobble by Sinner, who responded by breaking twice in succession and surged 4-2 clear and there was no way back.

At a career-high four in the world, Sinner also won titles last year in Montpellier, Vienna and Beijing, and was instrumental in helping Italy win the Davis Cup.

Former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova survived a scare to reach the second round of the Australian Open on Sunday, beating Japanese wildcard Mai Hontama 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. 

The Czech ninth seed, who triumphed at Roland Garros in 2021, struggled with her serve on Margaret Court Arena and was broken six times in total by her 122nd-ranked opponent.

But she dug deep when trailing 3-1 in the second set after losing the opener and eventually turned the tables.

Hontama, 24, playing in just her second Grand Slam, broke twice in the opening set to take a grip on the match.

There were multiple breaks in the second set but Krejcikova produced a powerful forehand winner to hold in the ninth game and edge ahead 5-4, seizing her chance to level the match.

The Czech player, 28, needed a medical timeout when 3-2 up in the decider, receiving heavy strapping to her foot and ankle.

But she showed no signs of discomfort as she returned to the court, conjuring a crucial break in a long eighth game to leave her on the brink of victory, which she sealed when Hontama went long with a forehand.