MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Defending champion and top seed Angelique Kerber battled her nerves and faltered badly with victory in sight before finally overcoming Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to reach the second round of the Australian Open on Monday.
The 28-year-old German was starting the defence of a grand slam title for the first time and initially struggled with her serve and the accuracy of her groundstrokes on Rod Laver Arena.
Once she found her range, however, Kerber proved more than a match for world No. 51 Tsurenko, who was reduced to scrapping to save her serve and the odd pearl of a consolation point off her rasping backhand.
The German's nerves returned when Kerber was serving for the match, however, and the world No. 1 started ballooning shots all over the place, allowing her Ukrainian opponent to break back for 5-5.
Tsurenko grasped her opportunity with both hands and broke the Australian and US Open champion again after a marathon nine-minute game to send the match into a decider.
The third set developed into a battle of wills but Kerber grabbed the key break for a 4-2 lead before rattling off the next two games to set up a second round tie against compatriot Carina Witthoeft.