Melbourne — World No1 Simona Halep had to come from 5-2 and a set point down against Australian teenager Destanee Aiava to win a first-round match at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Both the Romanian and her 17-year-old wildcard opponent needed on-court medical attention before top seed Halep ran out a battling 7-6 (7/5) 6-1 winner in an hour and 51 minutes.
The top seed had fallen at the first hurdle in the past two years at Melbourne Park and another shock was beckoning when the big-hitting Australian took a 5-2 lead in the first set buoyed by rowdy home supporters.
"I was actually stressed a little bit because two years in a row I lost in the first round, so I didn’t want to do the third one," said Halep.
"Aiava is going to be good in the future. But I’m really happy that I could win the first round. It was really important."
But the fearless teenager’s charge to the first set in her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena came to a dramatic halt as she called for a medical timeout at the change of ends, complaining of breathing problems. After her blood pressure and pulse were taken, she departed for further treatment. On her return, she managed to get to set point on the Romanian’s serve, but once Halep held the tide turned.
Aiava was still dazed and even tried to change ends at 5-3 in her confused state until the umpire ushered her back.
"I think she didn’t know what’s the score," said Halep. "I think she thought it’s set when she took the medical. The medical maybe helped me. I was lucky a little bit."
She now faces a clash against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, a former semifinalist in Melbourne and Roland Garros, and a finalist at Wimbledon in 2014 after beating Halep in the semifinal, the last time the pair met.
• Former champions Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber turned on the style to sweep into the second round on Tuesday. With temperatures heating up in Melbourne, the two Grand Slam winners wasted little time on court.
Sharapova, still working her way back from a 15-month ban for taking the performance-enhancing substance meldonium, showed glimpses of the tennis that made her a five-time Major winner.
The 2008 Melbourne Park champion, now ranked 48, battled past Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-1 6-4 and will next play either 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia or Varvara Lepchenko from the US.
"I cherish these moments. I love it here," said the Russian, who returned from her drugs ban in April 2017. "It’s been a couple of years and I wanted it to be really meaningful to me."
Fellow former world No1 Kerber, who won the tournament in 2016, was also impressive in dismissing Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-0 6-4.
"Last year, I have said goodbye already, I am not looking back," she said after a forgettable last season that saw her relinquish the top spot and slide down the rankings. She is now on a 10-match win streak after a perfect early season.