By Dave Gertler
(January 3, 2014) SYDNEY – Day 1 of the 2014 Apia International began ominously, overcast with patches of light rain. Fortunately not only did the weather clear, but the day would eventually turn into a 30-degree scorcher late into an afternoon that saw an abundance of high-quality matches on the outside courts of the Sydney Olympic Tennis Centre.
Women’s qualification matches began today with 48 players contesting for an eventual six places in a main draw of 32 players. Sara Errani, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Daniela Hantuchova and Carla Suarez Navarro are amongst the tournament’s drawcards, and were all spotted on practice courts around the grounds, as well as on Ken Rosewall Arena, which is being used as a practice court while the qualification draw is played out.
The highest ranked player competing for a main draw place is American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who managed to overcome a tough challenge from Luksika Kumkhum, needing 1 hour 48 minutes to eliminate the 89th ranked Thai 7-5, 6-4. Out of an American contingent of eight, the only two Americans to lose in the first round were Coco Vandeweghe, whose defeat came at the hands of another American Abigail Spears, and Raquel Kops-Jones, who lost 2-6, 2-6 to Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
Victoria Duval overcame Australia’s Isabella Holland, who fell behind early in the first set and wasn’t able to make up the deficit against a strong and clean-hitting Duval. World No.169 Duval will now face Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who despite losing the first set to Kimiko Date-Krumm, managed to take the second and the match off the 43-year-old.
Christina McHale won a tough three-setter against Camila Giorgi. The 66th-ranked Italian served for the match in the second set but was unable to convert the opportunity before a resurgent McHale took control of a match that would be one of the longest of the day, at 2 hours 28 minutes.
Lauren Davis, the last of the Americans scheduled to play, absorbed the power hitting and thunderous serving of Timea Babos, of Hungary. Despite being eight inches shorter than her opponent, the American covered the court well and picked her moments carefully, playing aggressive shot-making tennis against the Hungarian. Babos’ high ball-toss didn’t combine well with the windy conditions at the time. Now, world No.70 Davis will play Misaki Doi, the only Japanese woman to advance to the second round of qualifying.
Whilst it was a successful day for the Americans in the draw, it was a tough day for the Australian women, none of whom made it through to round two of qualification. Australia’s hopes for main draw success at the Apia International will instead reside with a resurgent Jarmila Gajdosova, who was announced today as a wildcard recipient for the main draw.
Israel’s Shahar Peer defeated Canada’s Stephanie Dubois in what was one of the stand-out matches of the day. Both players conceded very few unforced errors, Peer the more aggressive player on her way to a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Men’s qualifying starts Saturday and will take place alongside women’s 2nd round qualification matches. Entry to the Apia International on Saturday is free.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .