Young Australian sets up perfectly for tilt at Open

Australian Ashleigh Barty broke Simona Halep’s serve in the final game to beat the No. 1-ranked Halep 6-4, 6-4 in a second-round match at the Sydney International.

It was Halep’s first match since last October after a lengthy layoff due to a back injury.

“I think it was a great match after almost four months since I played one full match, the U.S. Open,” Halep said.

“I think I played a good level of tennis. She played really well. Her slice was great today, so she deserved to win this match.

“But also I was very close to win. I had so many chances to break her and to take advantage, but I couldn’t.”

Halep said she was pain-free from her back injury but would wait to see how she pulls up on tomorrow.

“No pain at all. I’m happy about that. It’s a great sign,” she said.

“I will recover now, and I will see how I wake up tomorrow morning.”

Barty served five aces, no double-faults and broke Halep three times to reverse two previous losses to Halep last August.

“I finally learned my lesson,” Barty said. “She gave me a belting in Montreal. I learned a little bit more in Cincinnati, but today I knuckled down and really thought about it and really gave myself a chance.

Ashleigh BARTY of Australia at the Sydney International Tennis Championship at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre, Homebush, Sydney, Australia. 9 Jan 2019. (Andy Cheung/ArcK Images)

“The biggest thing, I believed that I could I win. We’re both out here on the same court. Just very happy I was able to come out and execute.”

The 27-year-old Halep will be at the Australian Open next week in Melbourne without a coach after parting ways with Australian mentor Darren Cahill, who can longer commit to Halep due to family reasons. Cahill had coached Halep for four years.

In earlier first-round matches, 10th-seeded Elise Mertens beat qualifier Katerina Siniakova 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 and Anett Kontaveit defeated Monica Puig 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.

In the men’s event, Alex de Minaur beat American qualifier Reilly Opelka 6-4 7-6 (4) in a match suspended by rain after just one game on Tuesday night to advance to the quarterfinals against fellow Australian Jordan Thompson.

Top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Guido Andreozzi 6-3, 6-4, third-seeded Diego Schwartzman beat qualifier Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-3, Yoshihito Nishioka defeated Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-1 and No. 8 Andreas Seppi beat Martin Klizan 7-6 (2), 6-2.

Stefanos TSITSIPAS of Greece at the Sydney International Tennis Championship at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre, Homebush, Sydney, Australia. 9 Jan 2019. (Andy Cheung/ArcK Images)

Belinda Bencic eased into the quarterfinals at the WTA Tour’s Hobart International, beating Australian wild card Zoe Hives 6-2, 6-4.

Seventh-seeded Kirsten Flipkens moved into the final eight with a 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1 win over Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova 6-7 (3) 6-4, 6-1.

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia continued her strong start to the new year, beating eighth-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck.

Top-seeded John Isner has been eliminated in the second round of the ATP Tour’s ASB Classic, losing 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-5) to fellow American Taylor Fritz.

Young American Tennys Sandgren beat third-seeded Marco Checchinato of Italy 6-3 6-3.