Ash Barty has been here before – and will recognise her opening round match in the Australian Open against a familiar foe is no cakewalk.
Just as two years ago, the No.1 seed will launch her bid to win her home grand slam against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, an opponent who gave her plenty of food for thought in that first round encounter at Melbourne Park in 2020.
“She’s an incredibly tough opponent,” Barty reflected after that match in which she had to battle back from a set down before asserting her superiority and winning 5-7 6-1 6-1.
So the world No.1 knows only too well that the 32-year-old Tsurenko represents a tricky first hurdle on Monday, especially as the Ukrainian can boast how she’s already beaten Barty in her own Queensland backyard.
That straight sets win came in 2018 at a tournament in Brisbane, which had already alerted Barty to Tsurenko’s quality before that 2020 Open clash.
On that occasion, Tsurenko was playing just her second match after being sidelined for five months with an elbow injury, but she still caused Barty all kinds of problems before the Australian solved the riddle.
“She moves very well. She’s able to cover the court when she can. She’s a great ball striker and is able to manipulate you around the court a lot,” said an impressed Barty at the time.
The good news for the event favourite is that, two years on and firmly entrenched as the world No.1, she’s in irresistible form herself now following her season-opening triumph at the Adelaide International.
Yet some things remain oddly similar to that 2020 contest. Tsurenko, who did once get as high as No.23 three years ago, now has exactly the same ranking of 120 that she had back in 2020, while Barty had also then just come off victory in Adelaide.
The difference this time is that Tsurenko isn’t rusty. Barty only learned on Friday who her opponent would be after the Ukrainian completed a superb qualifying campaign by defeating Russian Elina Avanesyan.
In her three matches, the No.6 qualifying seed six, who also beat Indian Ankita Raina and American Asia Muhammad, didn’t drop a set.
Barty shouldn’t be too concerned, though. She holds a 2-1 winning record over Tsurenko as she sets out on what looks a wholly promising quest to be the first Australian singles winner at the season’s first grand slam since Chris O’Neil in 1978.