MELBOURNE (AFP) – Defending champion Sofia Kenin exited the Australian Open in tears yesterday as world number one Ashleigh Barty negotiated a sticky moment to reach the third round.
Self-imposed pressure has weighed heavily on Kenin, 22, the world number four who was defending a Grand Slam title for the first time.
And after an emotional first-round win over wildcard Maddison Inglis, Kenin met her match in the in-form Estonian Kaia Kanepi, who ousted the American 6-3, 6-2.
“I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure,” said an emotional and red-eyed Kenin, who wiped away tears during her press conference.
“I mean, obviously I haven’t experienced that. I obviously felt like I’m not there 100 per cent physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off. It’s not good.”
While Kenin became just the third defending champion since 1970 to fail to reach the third round, Barty further lifted hopes of a first Australian winner since 1978.
Playing with her left thigh heavily strapped, the top seed twice failed to serve out the win before ousting her 387th-ranked compatriot Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6 (9/7).
Barty, who is unbeaten in seven matches after sitting out nearly all of last year, blamed the lapse on ring-rust.
“I haven’t played a lot of tennis over the last 12 months. Obviously going to have ebbs and flows not only in concentration but level of play as well,” said the Aussie, dismissing any injury concerns.
“This isn’t very subtle,” Barty said, referring to her large bandage. “I’m as fit as a fiddle.”