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Fifth seed Maria Sakkari battles through at Australian Open

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Maria Sakkari of Greece hits a return against Germany’s Tatjana Maria during their women’s singles match on Day 1 of the Australian Open tennis tournament on Monday. AFP

Fifth seed Maria Sakkari battles through at Australian Open

Fifth seed Maria Sakkari battled past Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) Monday to kick start her Australian Open as she looks to build on breakout season last year.

The Greek 26-year-old made the semi-finals at the US Open and French Open in 2021 to telegraph her intent and is seeded in the top 10 of a Slam for the first time at Melbourne Park.

She took time to settle on Rod Laver Arena but soon found her groove to break Maria for a 5-4 lead and serve out the opening set in 44 minutes.

But the 287th-ranked German refused to give up and made Sakkari work hard, taking the match to a tiebreaker before her resistance was broken.

“We all know how hard first rounds can be and that wasn’t easy,” said the athletic Sakkari, who also made the semi-finals of the season-ending WTA Finals last year.

“Tatjana played a really great match and I found it tough. It was my first match and I needed time to find my rhythm.

“I was also a little bit stressed to open the tournament in this wonderful stadium,” she added of being the first match on Rod Laver Arena.

The right-hander beat nine top-10 players last year in her rise through the rankings, including against defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka at Miami.

But her best result in seven attempts at Melbourne so far was a run to the round of 16 in 2020.

She will next play either Chinese qualifier Zheng Qinwen or Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.

Others through in Monday’s early action included 15th seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who eased past Fiona Ferro of France 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), and the Swiss Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, seeded 22, who overcame Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3.

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