MELBOURNE (AFP) - Garbine Muguruza wore heavy strapping on her injured right thigh as she laboured to a 6-4, 6-3 victory against wildcard Jessika Ponchet in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday (Jan 16).
The world No. 3 took an hour and 24 minutes to quell the virtually unknown 21-year-old French world No. 256.
Muguruza said before her match she was hoping to be "pain-free" to begin her Australian Open campaign, but her mobility was hampered and she looked anything but fully fit against Ponchet.
A quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year, Spain's Muguruza dropped her first service game but from there, battled back to take the first set in 43 minutes.
"It wasn't easy. I didn't know anything about her," said Muguruza of her opponent who was making her first main draw appearance in a WTA event, let alone a Grand Slam.
"She's super talented. Serves and volleys, so I had to stay very concentrated."
The Wimbledon champion had a problematic start to the year, pulling out of the Sydney International to protect her right thigh.
Only a week earlier, she had retired from the Brisbane International with severe cramps.
Her bad luck almost continued when she clutched her left knee as her shoe stuck awkwardly in the court at 2-2, 30-30 in the second set, bringing gasps from the Margaret Court Arena crowd.
But she recovered to outlast Ponchet in a game that went to a marathon six deuces and take a break of serve and then broke again to seal the win.
Muguruza, seeded third, next faces Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-Wei who prevailed in a see-saw match against China's Zhu Lin 0-6, 6-0, 8-6.
The two-time Grand Slam winner is in the same half of the draw as world No. 1 Simona Halep and is projected to face another Frenchwoman, eighth seed Caroline Garcia, in the quarter-finals.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova's return to the Australian Open, a year after the Czech was injured by a burglar in a knife attack at her home was short-lived after a marathon 3-6, 6-4, 8-10 first-round loss to Germany's Andrea Petkovic.