Tomljanovic enjoys winning start to 2021

Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic has enjoyed a fine start to her 2021 campaign, defeating Lin Zhu 6-2 7-6 (7-0) at the Abu Dhabi Open.

The Aussie No.2 took an hour and 42 minutes to subdue her Chinese opponent, eventually progressing after an emphatic second set tiebreak as the women’s season got under way.

Tomljanovic, the world No.68, is looking for a good run at the Abu Dhabi tournament, which was set up by the WTA last month to give players more time to prepare for the Australian Open.

The Grand Slam was postponed from its usual January dates to mid-February amid the coronavirus pandemic and Abu Dhabi will be the only warm-up tournament outside Melbourne.

After the event in Abu Dhabi, players will either head to Australia on charter flights before entering quarantine, or travel the short distance to Dubai to play Australian Open qualifying.

The 27-year-old Croatian-born Tomljanovic, second only to world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the domestic rankings, is ranked 23 places higher than Lin and was in command from the start of the first set.

Tomljanovic broke Lin twice at the start of the opening set and survived three break points herself to race into a 4-0 lead, before wrapping up the opening stanza in 38 minutes.

The second set was much more closely contested with Tomljanovic having to fight back from 3-0 down before recovering her poise and serving for the match at 5-4, only to be broken to love.

Tomljanovic then dominated the tiebreak to set up a last-32 encounter with either Belrusian Aryna Sabalenka, the fourth seed, or Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.

Florida-based Tomljanovic, who will also play doubles with Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in Abu Dhabi, opted to spend the Christmas and New Year with family overseas.

She will travel to Australia next week and complete her two-week quarantine in Melbourne along with other main draw players ahead of the Open.

Earlier, Russia’s Daria Kasatkina became the first winner of the new season, beating China’s Wang Qiang 6-2 3-6 6-2 after trailing 2-0 in the deciding set.

It was the Russian’s first match since October, and Wang’s first since March.

“The first match after a long stop is never easy,” Kasatkina said. “I was not that nervous but I felt my stomach a little bit.”

Kasatkina added she didn’t mind spending time alone, making her better placed than most to adapt to quarantine measures ahead of the Australian Open.

“For many of the players, it’s difficult with the protocols and everything,” Kasatkina said. “I’m OK to sit a long time in the room.”

Maria Sakkari, seeded ninth, faced four break points but saved them all in a 6-4 6-2 victory over Anastasia Potapova.

Veronika Kudermetova beat 10th-seeded Anett Kontaveit 7-5 6-1 and Yulia Putintseva defeated Martina Trevisan 6-3 6-3.

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