MELBOURNE (AFP) - World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty launched her bid for a maiden Australian Open title in emphatic fashion on Monday (Jan 17), crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in just 54 minutes.
The Australian top seed was all business on Rod Laver Arena, taking command early to race through the first set to love and wrap up the match 6-0, 6-1 in an ominous warning to her rivals.
Ukraine's Tsurenko was no walkover. Despite being ranked 120 and forced to qualify this year, the 32-year-old is an experienced player with four WTA titles.
But she was out of her depth against the reigning Wimbledon champion who is strongly fancied to be crowned champion in two weeks' time, breaking her duck at a tournament where she has never gone beyond the semi-finals.
"This is beautiful, it's felt like an eternity since I've been here," Barty said of playing in front of her home crowd.
"Playing as well as I did, it was a lot of fun. It felt nice and clean and I did a good job. Overall, I found my forehand and was able to control the court."
Showing typical poise, Barty cruised through her opening game for the loss of just one point and made a statement in the next, breaking Tsurenko at the first opportunity.
She faced a break-point in the third game but recovered to go 3-0 in front then broke the struggling Ukrainian twice more to secure the set in 24 minutes.
The 25-year-old was unstoppable, with her power and accuracy too much for Tsurenko, who was broken again early to go 2-0 down in the second set.
She finally won a game for 5-1 to prevent an infamous "double-bagel" defeat and saved four match-points, but the end was inevitable.
Barty came into the Australian Open in red-hot form, claiming the singles and doubles titles in Adelaide and appears at ease at her home Slam despite the weight of expectation.
She won the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon last year, and finished as world No. 1 again in 2021 despite returning to Australia after the US Open in September and not playing again.
It elevated her alongside Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Chris Evert as the only women to finish as the top-ranked player for three consecutive years.