Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin has begun the countdown to defending her crown by beating qualifier Yang Zhaoxuan 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 in her first match of the year at the Abu Dhabi Open.
The American top seed hit 11 aces against China’s Yang to set up a second-round match against Kirsten Flipkens.
“Obviously a little bit of nerves. I had to try and find my groove,” said the 22-year-old, who will set out on the defence of her Melbourne title next month.
“First set was quite tough for me. I couldn’t find the ball, I guess. But second set I showed up strong and, of course, I feel like it’s because of the lack of matches for me.”
After a long pre-season, Kenin said she was happy to beat a player who had already had match practice in qualifying, but she had concerns about her own fatigue toward the end.
“I was like, ‘I just want to finish already. I’m too tired’,'” Kenin said.
Fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka came back after trailing 5-3 in the opening set to beat Polona Hercog 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 and set up a last-32 clash with Australian No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic.
Sixth seed Elena Rybakina defeated Lucrezia Stefanini 6-1 6-3, Hsieh Su-Wei upset eighth seed Marketa Vondrousova 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-3), and Sara Sorribes Tormo beat French Open semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska 6-3 6-3.