LONDON • Ashleigh Barty's express-train run to the top of the women's game shows no sign of slowing as the world No. 1 dispatched China's Zheng Saisai 6-4, 6-2 in her Wimbledon opener.
The Australian Barty, who followed up her French Open triumph last month by winning in Birmingham, sealed a 13th straight win in a brisk hour and 16 minutes, battling through the first set before easing through the second yesterday.
She has never been past the third round at Wimbledon but her game is well-suited to the slick grass courts and she looks well-placed to challenge for a second Grand Slam title.
Barty, who is bidding to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season, said the weight of being No. 1 did not affect her particularly.
"It is a bizarre feeling to be honest, but I try and go about my business as usual," said the 23-year-old.
She did not have it all her own way, pegged back at 4-4 after leading 3-0, but took the first set after breaking at 5-4. She broke Zheng's first service game in the second set and was rarely troubled after that.
"The first round is always very tough and it took a little time to get used to the court," said Barty.
1st rd Kei Nishikori (Jpn) bt Thiago Monteiro (Bra) 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 6-4, Nick Kyrgios (Aus) bt Jordan Thompson (Aus) 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 0-6 6-1.
1st rd Wang Qiang (Chn) bt Vera Lapko (Blr) 6-2 6-2, Sloane Stephens (USA) bt Timea Bacsinszky (Sui) 6-2 6-4.
A tricky tie awaits her in the form of Belgian Alison van Uytvanck, who last year ruined Garbine Muguruza's hopes of retaining her title in the second round. Muguruza crashed out yesterday, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Beatriz Haddad Maia.
"It will be an exceptional challenge and it will be important for me to be strong on serve," she said.
Defending champion Angelique Kerber needed to call upon all her experience to beat fellow German Tatjana Maria 6-4, 6-3.
The three-time Grand Slam champion has enjoyed mixed fortunes since beating Serena Williams in the final last year, dropping to fifth in the rankings and exiting the French Open in the first round.
Maria's mixture of slice and guile, rare on a circuit dominated by big-hitting players, frustrated Kerber, especially in the first set.
"I was hoping to stay in the match because you never know what's going to happen with her," said the 31-year-old Kerber. "She really plays tricky with the slice on both sides."
Meanwhile, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, left the plush Royal Box to watch a British wild card on the outside courts. In a rare move for a member of the royal family visiting the All England Club, she took one of the 318 regular seats on Court 14 to watch Harriet Dart beat American Christina McHale 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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